Burnetts logo

Discrimination and Brexit

Discrimination and Brexit

Employment Law Partner Natalie Ruane explains how employers can avoid discrimination claims arising out of Brexit. 

Now the country has voted to leave the EU, the discussions in the workplace on whether that decision is right or wrong will no doubt continue and name calling of those who voted Remain (or Leave) has already started on Facebook and elsewhere.

In order to avoid any potential issues, we have highlighted some potential risks associated with bringing political discussions into the workplace as set out below:

Discourage controversial comments from employees

Any comments made by employers or employees should avoid any controversial content.

Strong views concerning immigration and the effect of the Brexit result could be in danger of contributing towards an ‘intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’ for non-British workers, which could amount to harassment because of race, nationality, national origins or religion.

Respect individual opinion

It is uncertain whether a person’s political views about membership of the EU and/or British Sovereignty could amount to ‘philosophical belief’ for the purposes of religion or belief discrimination.   If employees are ostracised or treated any less favourably by their colleagues because of the way they voted or previously expressed views on the question, the employer may be at risk of a potential discrimination claim based on philosophical belief. 

Don’t sideline immigrant employees

Employers should also be very careful not to give the impression (whether explicitly or implicitly) that employees’ career prospects or job security could be harmed due to their EU nationality after the Brexit result as what will happen to their worker status going forward is far from certain.   Not only would this amount to direct discrimination but it may also amount to a breach of trust and confidence by the employer. An employee may feel they have no option but resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal and discrimination.
Industry leaders are calling for the Government to guarantee the right of EU citizens currently in the UK to remain legally to avoid employers losing valued staff.  

It is imperative to remember that all the provisions of the Equality Act are still very much in force and all UK legislation deriving from EU legislation remains in force until repealed.  What may change in UK employment law is some way off yet. For further information or guidance, please contact Natalie Ruane on 01228 552222.

About the author

Natalie Ruane profile photo

Natalie Ruane

Natalie is a Partner and leads the Employment Law & HR team and specialises in education.

Published: Friday 24th June 2016
Categorised: Employment, HR

All Factsheets