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Getting your business – and team – as prepared as possible for Brexit

Getting your business – and team – as prepared as possible for Brexit
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Getting your business – and team – as prepared as possible for Brexit
Sandhya Iyer - HR Dept Sevenoaks Tonbridge Tunbridge Wells by Sandhya Iyer - HR Dept Sevenoaks Tonbridge Tunbridge Wells
Director - HR Dept Sevenoaks Tonbridge Tunbridge Wells

There’s still so much confusion surrounding Brexit and its implications – but there are things you can do in advance of a deal or no deal. The key things to consider are how you’re going to communicate changes to your staff, and how best to support them in the face of a stressful, uncertain time. Plus, where can you turn for extra staff should you require them?  HR expert Sandhya Iyer of The HR Dept  explains how to ease your business through the process successfully.

Will your SME be affected by Brexit?

Fundamentally, the two types of SMEs that are bound to be affected by Brexit are:

  • SMEs that buy goods from and sell goods to the EU
  • SME businesses whose manpower is structured around non-EU/EU low- or medium-skilled labour

Talent and recruitment

Lack of space here means I won’t go into the legal, regulatory and myriad Home Office deadlines that you’ll need to refer to. Luckily, the Home Office has a fantastic toolkit for employers and employees, which explains everything here .

Business owners need to be aware that, whether we end up with a deal or no deal Brexit, it will bring a number of restrictions to the free flow of labour, specifically from the EU. In addition, it will become more expensive to hire EU or non-EU workers and the future flow of immigrant workers seems skewed more towards highly skilled rather than low- to medium-skilled workers.  On the positive side, however, there is hope that the recruitment process for hiring overseas workers will be reduced to between four and six weeks, compared to the current 14-week process. Suggested government alternatives are to go fully digital so that businesses can meet their need for skills shortage through a more efficient Home Office system.

Think ahead to meet your staffing needs

Hopefully you have a workforce plan in place, given that free movement of labour is expected to end with Brexit –if you work within hospitality, retail or agriculture and rely on unskilled or seasonal labour much of it from beyond the UK, all the more reason for you to be prepared. This could be a good opportunity to tap into local schools and colleges for apprentices, or to explore options among anyone looking to return to work after a career hiatus.

There are legal and non-discriminatory ways to get around operational issues, given the regulatory minefield around immigration laws but it’s wise to speak to a local HR advisor if you don’t have an inhouse expert. It can be very easy to end up with a discrimination claim if you are not careful about your recruitment policies, and “concerns over Brexit” is unlikely to be accepted as a justifiable reason for any legal irregularities.

Employee relations and communication

As far as employment rights are concerned, your workers will continue to enjoy almost the same level of protection, irrespective of a deal or no deal. This is because the EU Withdrawal Act 2018  adopts EU law into UK law, overcoming any legislative black hole in the event of a no deal. As always, seek professional HR advice if in doubt about anything.

Keep communication lines open with your EU-citizen staff – some of them may have to apply for temporary leave to remain, while others may be eligible to apply for British citizenship. While there is no legal requirement for employers to help employees through this stressful period, it can only help gain trust and loyalty if staff see you actively assisting them to bridge any information gaps.

Change is always challenging to manage, but whether we end up with a deal or no-deal Brexit, it is possible for SMEs to handle the process. Always seek professional HR advice if you are likely to be impacted by any new employment laws.


Sandhya Iyer  is the director of The HR Dept , helping small- and medium-sized businesses in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, Kent.  A graduate member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development , she works with business owners, entrepreneurs and managers to prevent people problems and help them get the best from their staff.

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