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In what could be the defining week of Brexit, amidst the ongoing uncertainty around the UK leaving the EU, we ask have you prepared for a no-deal scenario? We outline the steps you can be taking right now to support your employees and reduce the impact in the short-term.

Have you done enough as an employer to prepare your workforce?

With free movement set to end immediately on 1 November, this throws the role of employers and the immediate effect on their workforce into sharp relief. There is a careful balance between the role employers have in supporting their workplace and employers being anxious not to overly interfere.

Ensuring you are aware of each employee’s status, which they will have provided on joining, will ensure that you are aware of their situation and can monitor their required level of support. It is important to note that EU citizens and their families already living in the UK will have until 31 December 2020 to apply for settled status even in the event of a hard no-deal Brexit on 31 October. Existing documentation proving they can currently work in the UK is valid until that date.

Cautious recruitment practices

There are concerns that requests for settled status documents are being used to discriminate against candidates. Whilst some are arguing that it is illegal to request settled status documentation from applicants in the screening stages and initial recruitment process whilst the UK is still part of the EU, employers must check an employee’s existing right to work in the UK. The settled status will determine a person’s right to live and work in the UK after 31 December 2020.

The application process in itself has been open since March 2019 but is criticised for being too complicated and inaccessible for those living with disability, elderly residents in care homes, those with insufficient IT skills or with limited English. The risk is that thousands still have not applied and will become undocumented migrants overnight on the 1 November, in spite of the government awarding £9m in grants to charities targeting vulnerable and isolated communities.

Effect on retention

The number of applications received by 30 September equates to one in six EU citizens having applied for settled status, but the government’s commitment to leave for certain on the 31 October is prompting a rush of applications. With over half a million applications received in September alone, are people aware of the steps they need to take?

According to the CIPD, 48 per cent of employers reported an increase in their EU workforce expressing insecurity about their jobs as a result of Brexit as far back as August 2018. Whilst the launch of the EU Settlement Scheme in March 2019 may have alleviated these fears, only 28 per cent of employers have said it helped their confidence in retaining EU nationals over the next two years.

The surge in applications is translating into a delay in processing them. The Home Office say its staff are processing 20,000 cases a day, with an average turn-around of decisions being five days. A high proportion of people are also being granted the more precarious ‘pre-settled’ status requiring applicants to reapply once they have accrued five years of continuous residence in the UK and convert this to the permanent settled status.

In terms of immediate planning for recruitment and retention activity around Brexit, here are our top four steps you can implement now:

  1. Remind EU citizen employees to apply for settled status for themselves and their families as soon as possible.
  2. Bring forward start dates where possible to join EU citizens before 31 October 2019 in the event of a no-deal, hard Brexit. New employees could therefore enter the UK before the leave date and be eligible for pre-settled status.
  3. Monitor and support British citizens in Member States: The European Commission is asking all Member States to provide residence permits to British citizens living in their countries at the time Brexit takes place. These long-term arrangements will vary between countries. Arrangements are still being made or subject to change, so developments need to be monitored – with a summary published by the Commission here.
  4. Ensure you are ready to comply with data protection laws regulating the flow of data between your UK and EU operations. The ICO’s self-assessment questionnaires are proving useful for many of our customers.

Planning for the long-term: your Employee Value Proposition

Whilst Brexit uncertainty persists, one key theme emerging in the recent HR Groups dedicated to specific sectors including Facilities Management, Construction, Associations and Institutes, and Care - employers are united in the fact that their employer brand is a key asset to overcome the skills and talent shortages they face in a competitive labour market.

Taking care of your people reduces the impact of wider market pressures and individual employee’s ‘personal’ problems in a world where there is an increasing work-life blend. This key USP is critical in attracting and retaining talent. An employer’s workforce is differentiated by its culture, one where people feel they belong and want to stay.

Whilst the onus is currently on the employee with the Brexit application process underway, ensuring that you are seen to be as supportive as possible as an employer, generates and builds trust with the people you work with. A strong EVP can ensure the business continues to access the skills and knowledge they need.

Get in touch to discuss how you can build a culture that people want to be a part of and implement a strategic approach to your reward design.

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