Brexit and COVID bring changes

A masked waiter is serving orange juice to customers.

EMPLOYMENT law is complex, with a raft of policies and procedures to be implemented and adhered to.

And events of the past 18 months have spotlighted yet more areas for employers to be aware of.

For a start, Brexit has brought changes for those who employ EU nationals.

Applications for the EU Settlement Scheme closed on 30th June 2021, and employers should be aware of their obligations when it comes to ‘right to work’ checks.

“The way that right to work checks are carried out for EU nationals has changed in that you cannot just rely on checking EU workers’ passports to ensure they have the right to work,” said Gareth McKnight, managing director of Navigator Law.

“You must also check their settled status to ensure they have got settled status to work.
“The best ways for employers to check an employee’s settled status can be found at once the employee has provided you with a share code to access these details. A failure to properly comply with these right to work checks could result in a fine from the UK Home Office.”

This was echoed by Jonathan Rennie, partner at TLT Solicitors, who said employers should seek legal advice if they know they have EU nationals working for them who haven’t applied for settled status or were unsuccessful in their application.

“From 21st June, employers must check an applicant’s original right to work documents or conduct an online check,” he said.

“The UK now has a points-based immigration system and any non-UK/Irish recruits will need to be sponsored by a UK employer, who will need a licence from the Home Office to do so. Applications for this licence can take eight weeks or more to process.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought further important issues to the fore. From the debates around vaccine passports and self-isolation requirements to trading restrictions and stricter hygiene and health and safety measures – the situation is ever-changing. That employers communicate regularly with their teams is, therefore, paramount.

Ewan Stafford, senior associate at Harper Macleod, said: “We are undoubtedly due to experience a period of change as the rules on lockdown are lifted across the country.
“It may be sensible for employers to explain to their staff what the particular rules of their establishment will be and how to deal with any uncooperative patrons as regards any rules which the establishment chooses to put in place. Employees should feel empowered but should not feel that their health and safety is at risk if confronted with individuals who are not willing to conform to the rules.

“Before any rules are put in place, either for staff or for patrons, businesses would benefit from having a conversation with staff in order to allow their employees to address any concerns that they may have about any proposed changes so that all parties can work together in resolving them.”

McKnight at Navigator Law agreed, saying health and safety “will remain a key focus”.
“After an horrific year with the pandemic and lockdowns, many hospitality employers are struggling to recruit staff and a lot of staff are also worried about returning to work,” he said.

“It is therefore important to remember that the virus is still around and that the extra measures put in place through the pandemic – for example, the use of PPE and regular testing – should still be continued to ensure safety in the workplace as far as possible.”