What should multi-national employers be considering and doing in the short and medium term following the UK’s vote to leave the EU?
Communication, Communication, Communication
Communicate with your employees globally, including those working in the UK. Reassure them that there will be no knee-jerk reactions to the UK vote, but rather a measured approach based on the business’s long term strategy. Confirm that the management team is actively monitoring the position.
Employee comments in the media
Issue clear guidelines to employees on commenting on the UK vote and its implications in any media, including that any employees who are active on social media should not refer to their employer without express permission, nor should they otherwise make comments which might be potentially harmful to the business. Consider reissuing your social media and communications policy to all employees globally to remind them of the Company’s rules and that any breach is likely to be regarded as a disciplinary issue.
Support your people
- Nominate one or more people from HR or Employee Relations within each country in which you operate to whom staff can turn to ask questions or express concerns. Even if there is little or no concrete information in the early stages having a company contact person will assist to reassure staff.
Consider offering a counselling service to those employees who are particularly upset and distressed about the implications of the UK vote for them and their colleagues.
Ensure there is no unlawful discrimination against minorities potentially affected by the UK vote
Be aware that there may be workplace tensions arising from the vote. Take steps to ensure that there is no unlawful discrimination or harassment against EU nationals or other foreign workers in the workplace as a result of the Brexit vote (or otherwise). Circulate your anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies to all staff, stating that breaches will be regarded as a disciplinary matter and encourage any employee to come forward early if they consider they have been the subject of unlawful discrimination or harassment. Ensure the situation is closely monitored and any issues are addressed swiftly.
- Keep immigration issues under review
- Many of your staff may be EU citizens based in the UK, or UK citizens based in the other EU member states, who are feeling unsettled by the vote for Brexit and anxious about their right to live and work in the UK or other EU member states in the future.
- In terms of EU citizens in the UK a number will have lived in the UK for more than 5 years and should be encouraged to think about applying for permanent residence sooner rather than later. It is unlikely that others who are currently working or studying visa-free in the UK or who are UK citizens in other EU member states will be affected in the short term, as they will continue to be subject to the freedom of movement principle during the two-year negotiation period between the UK and EU (which may not be triggered until this Autumn).
- The immigration status of these affected employees will need to be kept under review during that period and expert advice should be sought. The affected employees should be provided with a key point of contact in their local HR department and with access to specialist immigration advice.
Protect your business
- Create a team to monitor and assess the implications of Brexit on key employees, potential departures and any resulting uncertainty for the business. To minimise the risk of a brain drain from your organisation, consider entering into retention arrangements with key employees including expatriates, who might otherwise be persuaded to move employers, or country, as a result of the UK vote.
Allow time for proper redundancy planning and processes – and be prepared!
If redundancies or restructurings do become necessary in due course as a result of the vote, ensure that your business plans properly and allows enough time to undertake objective and fair selection processes, and thoroughly documented collective and individual procedures.
Prepare in advance the terms of any potential package and severance agreement which would be offered to staff who might be asked to leave, as well as controlling carefully the communications and messaging around those redundancies.
The UK vote to leave the EU is an unfolding story and there is uncertainty as to what the Brexit vote will mean in practice – in particular whether the UK may yet retain access to the Single Market on a basis agreed between the UK government and the EU. Whatever the outcome, multi-national employers will need to keep the situation under close review.