Q: What should companies do about EU employees?
A: With the outcome of Brexit unclear, employers are likely to be concerned about the future of their European staff once the UK leaves the EU. In light of this, it would be wise for businesses to make a concerted effort to support staff during what may be a difficult and unsettling time for them.
Freedom of movement, which allows EU nationals to live and work in the UK without restriction, will come to an end following Brexit. This means many EU employees will need to apply for the right to remain through the EU Settlement Scheme.
Individuals will be granted settled status providing they meet the five-year residency requirement, are able to provide proof of identification and have no serious criminal history.
Those who do not meet the residency requirements initially will be able to obtain pre-settled status, granting them the right to remain until they meet the five-year threshold.
Employers could offer their assistance to EU staff in this situation by informing them of their rights under the EU Settlement Scheme ahead of time. Applications must be completed on the Home Office website, using a PC or Android device, therefore employers may wish to assist by offering the use of business computers if staff do not have access to one at home.
Where English is not the first language for staff employers could consider providing translation services to ensure applications are completed correctly, while it is also important that line managers and HR personnel are familiar with the process should they need to answer any queries.
Although employers will be keen to keep skilled EU workers they should not pressure staff into applying for settled status, or treat them unfavourably if they refuse.
Instead, they should understand that this will be a significant and deeply personal decision to make. Dismissing or withholding benefits from those who are not planning on remaining in the UK could result in claims of unfair dismissal or race discrimination.
Given how divisive the topic of Brexit can be, employers should be wary of hostile or discriminatory behaviour towards European staff in the lead up to, and following Brexit day, when the UK is scheduled to leave the EU.
Those who work in a customer-facing environment may be especially at risk of third-party harassment and measures should be put in place to protect them from harm.
At the same time, keep an eye on colleagues who use confrontational language or make jokes around workers’ nationalities, as although this may be intended as ‘banter’ it could constitute harassment if the employee takes offence.