Theresa May and David Davis on employment law after Brexit

by Laurie Anstis on July 14, 2016

One of the biggest questions for employment lawyers and HR managers over the next few years is going to be the shape of employment law after Brexit. With so much of our employment legislation derived from the EU, what will survive?

No-one knows, but we are starting to get some indications from the key players on their overall approach to employment rights.

Theresa May took the opportunity of her speech on appointment as Prime Minister to mention employment rights twice. She said:

If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job, but you don’t always have job security … We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.

Talk of job security must involve consideration of employment rights, and in particular protection against losing your job arbitrarily – or “unfair dismissal”. Under David Cameron unfair dismissal rights were restricted as the qualifying period was increased from one year to two years and the maximum compensation recoverable was reduced. Limiting certain employment rights in the name of overall competitiveness has often been a feature of Conservative policy, but perhaps Theresa May has other plans. It may also be that this government will look creatively at some of the insecurity caused by the various zero-hours and self-employment practices that have become common across many industries.

Theresa May also specifically referenced equal pay, saying “If you’re a woman you will earn less than a man.” There have previously been various policy initiatives to improve the position on equal pay (while also taking away the right to serve an equal pay questionnaire), and it may be we will see more proposals in this field.

Theresa May has announced that David Davis will take charge of the Brexit negotiations. He has recently written in some detail about his vision for Brexit. When talking about EU regulation, he said:

To be clear, I am not talking here about employment regulation.  All the empirical studies show that it is not employment regulation that stultifies economic growth, but all the other market-related regulations, many of them wholly unnecessary.  Britain has a relatively flexible workforce, and so long as the employment law environment stays reasonably stable it should not be a problem for business.

Of course, outside the EU the UK would no longer be subject to the ECJ, whose interpretations of EU law are binding – but it does appear that the minister in charge of Brexit has no desire to reduce the current impact of EU employment law in the UK.

[For those interested in the effect of Brexit on employing European workers in the UK, I am running a free webinar on that topic at 2 pm on 21 July 2016 – book here.]