From an HR perspective, the end of the Brexit transition period has meant getting to grips with the new post-brexit landscape and what the UK-EU deal means for your business.
Following a lengthy transition period, which formally ended on the 31st December 2020, many firms are still adjusting along with the COVID-19 pandemic having disguised and/or delayed some of the consequences of the Government’s Brexit deal.
The good news is, for now at least, there aren’t a huge number of changes in HR legislation. However, it is important to take note of the key areas listed below.
Understanding the impact on current employment law
Under the terms of the Brexit deal, the UK is no longer bound by any new EU Directives issued from 1 January 2021. As part of having the tariff-free trade arrangement, the UK has agreed not to remove the existing level of employment rights already in place as of 31 December 2020.
Following this date, the UK can now set its own employment and other laws. Courts and tribunals do not have to follow decisions made by the Court of Justice of the European Union or comply with any new EU Directives that are issued.
New immigration rules
The immigration regime in particular has an immediate and far-reaching impact for HR. For European nationals and families who first enter the UK from 1st January 2021, there will no longer be any advantage to holding a European passport. Irish citizens can continue to freely enter, live and work in the UK.
The UK has introduced a points-based immigration system, meaning that to recruit from outside the UK Employers now require a sponsor licence for which there are several rules that govern how they are issued and used. Employers will have to demonstrate a legitimate skills gap and meet the hefty costs associated with Sponsorship; its certainly not for everyone.
The EU Settlement Scheme continues to operate and will enable EU citizens already living in the UK to apply for settlement indefinitely. The deadline for applications is 30 June 2021. It remains an Employer’s responsibility to ensure the Right To Work of existing Employees; auditing this information is strongly advised so that support and recommendation can be made to any staff needing to utilise the settlement scheme.
This is all very important. Employing an illegal worker can lead to a £20,000 fine, criminal charges, reputational damage and/or the loss of any sponsored workers.
Under the trade agreement, Employers with UK-based staff who regularly travel to EU nations for work, and vice versa, should consider whether visas are needed or whether the trip qualifies for a visa-exempt business visit.
As part of the withdrawal agreement, protections have been granted to business travellers or migrant workers who had “got their foot in the door” before the end of 2020 and had established a “pattern” of working that would allow them to qualify for visa exemptions post-Brexit. Businesses are advised to gather and collate evidence of any pre-existing patterns, as a priority.
The withdrawal trade agreement lists permitted visa-free activities for short-term business visitors between the EU and UK, with some variance in arrangements dependent on the Country. These activities include attending meetings or conferences, research and design, training, attending trade fairs, commercial transactions and more. Organisations will need to track how many days their business travellers with UK passports spend in continental Europe and for what purposes; monitoring is also advisable for tax compliance.
Of course despite this change coming into force, additional travel limitations imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been established. Only when travel restrictions are eased will businesses and individuals feel the full effects of new limits on business travel and the end to the free movement of people.
After Brexit, the UK is no longer regulated domestically by the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which governs processing of personal data from individuals inside the EU. Instead, the UK now has its own version known as the UK-GDPR.
The UK-GDPR is almost word for word completely identical to the EU’s GDPR, though there are some expansions and deviations from the original for example changes have been made around immigration. Importantly, the segregation of UK GDPR from EU GDPR means that future changes to one will not inform the other.
As part of the new trade deal, following the end of the transition period the EU has agreed to delay data transfer restrictions for at least four months, which may be extended to six months at least for smaller businesses.