29 June 2016

Since Friday the news has been focused on Brexit and the future of the country. The uncertainty about what will happen now means opinions about the outcome of the referendum are divided. Feelings are running high and the atmosphere is heated.

In the workplace many employees will be feeling uncertain about the future. There are fears that Brexit may trigger another recession resulting in job losses and pay cuts. EU migrant workers will be concerned about their immigration status and future prospects of remaining in the UK. All of this means that Brexit is likely to be the main topic of conversation for some time.

With opinions divided and disturbing reports about verbal and physical attacks on EU migrant workers, what can employers do to maintain calm in the workplace?

Focus on communication

  • Silence breeds rumours. If you have not already done so, consider issuing a statement to your workforce explaining your corporate reaction to the impact of Brexit. The more positive or reassuring the message the better, but be careful to avoid raising unreasonable expectations or making promises which you may not be able to keep. Let employees know the contact point for any immediate concerns. Also be aware that any communications to the workforce at large could become public.
  • Employees who have concerns about their own immigration status should be supported and reassured that no immediate changes to immigration rules are anticipated. Organisations may wish to take specific advice in relation to key workers and the options available in relation to their rights to remain in the UK whatever the outcome of Brexit negotiations.
  • It may be appropriate to remind employees of your organisation's approach to PR & external communications and to whom any media enquiries should be addressed.

Set out expectations in relation to standards of behaviour

  • Whilst employees are entitled to express opinions and discuss current affairs in the workplace, it is equally important that order and appropriate standards of behaviour are maintained. You need to ensure that discussions don’t turn into arguments and that opinions are not expressed in ways which could be regarded as bullying or harassment.
  • Consider reminding employees about the standards of behaviour expected in the workplace. Many organisations will have a statement of values which can be drawn to employees' attention. Most will have respect at work policies. Where necessary, employees should be advised that a failure to comply with the required standards of behaviour will be treated as a disciplinary matter.

Have in place clear procedures

  • Ensure that workers are aware of what action they should take if they have concerns about the behaviour of others in the workplace and where to go for advice and support.
  • In some organisations it will be appropriate for any issues of concern to be dealt with centrally. In others it may be better for local line management to take the lead. In either case, you should ensure that line managers know what steps they need to take if concerns are raised with them, how they should respond and what support is available.
  • Where there are concerns about employees’ activities on social media, they should be reminded of the organisation’s social media policy and that a failure to comply with it will be treated as a disciplinary matter.

There is no "one size fits all" response to the myriad of issues Brexit raises and the current state of uncertainty. What steps are appropriate will depend on each particular organisation’s circumstances and workforce make-up. As a way forward emerges, everyone will be in a better position to respond to the practical challenges ahead but, in the meantime, all employers should ensure that they monitor the situation as it develops.

This legal update was written by senior associates Annelise Tracy Phillips and Kate Redshaw.

Key contact

Headshot of Chris Seaton

Chris Seaton Senior Partner

  • Senior Partner
  • Employment
  • Partnerships

Subscribe to news and insight

Burges Salmon careers

We work hard to make sure Burges Salmon is a great place to work.
Find out more