What does leaving the EU mean for employment law?

Published: 28th Jun 2016

This briefing is largely based on the briefing by the House of Commons Library ‘EU referendum: impact of an EU exit in key UK policy areas’. The opinions and judgements it contains are theirs. We expect to review and add to these articles periodically as events develop.

The UK’s exit from the EU could see a significant change in employment law as much of this comes from the EU.

There may be pressure on the government from employers’ associations to change laws originating from the EU, like the Working Time Regulations and Agency Worker Regulations. Trade unions would probably strongly oppose any changes which seemed to be reducing workers’ rights.

The following areas of employment laws stem largely from the EU, according to the House of Commons Library: annual leave, agency worker rights, part-time worker rights, fixed-term worker rights, collective redundancy, paternity, maternity and parental leave, protection of employment upon the transfer of a business and anti-discrimination legislation. Once the UK has left the EU these could all potentially be changed by the government, though whether they would wish to is another matter.

UK law creates some employment rights that go further than EU law. For example, it guarantees the National Minimum Wage, which is not part of EU law.

The EU’s role in employment law has evolved over the years. When it was founded, the EU—or European Economic Community as it was—had no role in employment law. This changed as it became responsible for more social policy and to advance the single market.

The UK has also had a changing relationship with EU employment law. The Thatcher government tried to limit the EU’s role in the area, and the Major government opted out of the ‘Social Chapter’ in the Maastricht Treaty. The Labour government opted back into this ‘Social Chapter’ when they came into government in 1997.

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