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Brexit: Immigration and the Retail and Leisure Sectors

Since the UK voted to leave the EU I have spoken with many employers who have concerns about the implications of the decision for their EU staff members. These concerns apply across all sectors but there are particular concerns in the retail and leisure sectors.

Prior to the Referendum the Social Market Foundation published a report estimating that 6% of workers in the retail and leisure sectors were born in the EU, and that many of these individuals were in lower occupational bandings, meaning they were more likely to be seasonal workers or in customer facing roles. While there have been a number of suggestions that highly skilled workers from the EU will still be able to move to the UK following Brexit there has been little discussion of the position of lower skilled workers and seasonal workers.

While much will depend on the outcome of the negotiations with the EU, and we could potentially receive some updates in this regard later this year, the current implications for businesses in the retail and leisure sectors are likely to be:

1. Future recruitment is likely to be harder and wages may increase

Once the UK formally leaves the EU, it is likely that EU workers will need some form of work permit in order to come to the UK. These are likely to be limited in numbers and more readily available for those in specialist employment or managerial roles, which will mean it will be harder to hire EU nationals for customer facing or seasonal roles.

One further implication of this is that wages may need to increase to attract sufficient number of UK workers to these roles, which they have traditionally regarded as low paid work.

2. Existing staff are likely to have concerns regarding their status

Since the outcome of the Referendum I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of EU nationals looking to apply for permanent residence cards, or registration certificates confirming that they are in the UK legally.

From the perspective of an employer there is little that can be done to secure an employee's status since these applications must be made by the individual themselves, but some assistance can be provided by supplying the individual with evidence of their employment such as copies of old payslips or a letter confirming the dates of employment.

3. Businesses need to be prepared to deal with any instances of racism involving their employees

Following the Referendum, there were a number of reports of an increase of racially aggravated incidents being reported to the police. Employers should ensure they have policies in place for dealing with incidents between colleagues but businesses in the retail and leisure sectors, where EU nationals are likely to be customer facing, have additional reason to be concerned.

Although changes to the law in 2013 reduced the possibility of an employer being liable for the discriminatory acts of a 3rd party, there are still some limited circumstances where claims could be raised and it is important for a business to have a clear policy for dealing with any such incidents.

Overall, whilst all the implications of Brexit for the Retail and Leisure sectors may not be apparent for some time there are some areas where can anticipate issues arising now, and businesses should be prepared for these. If you would like further information on how to prepare for Brexit please get in touch or visit our Brexit hub.