2 February 2021

What does Brexit mean for UK employment rights?

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement agreed between the UK and the European Union sets out the on-going trade relations between the two trading partners. In relation to employment rights, the UK has agreed to ensure that a “level playing field” is maintained between employers either side of the English Channel.

In order to help secure a tariff and quota-free trade deal, the UK has agreed not to lessen employment law protection below the standards that existed as at 31 December to the extent it affects trade or investment.

Therefore, whilst this restriction is not a complete prohibition on lessening rights (i.e. the weakening of employment laws are permitted where they do affect trade or investment), in practice it will very likely restrict the UK’s ability to make major or wholesale changes to current employment laws. For example, changes such as removing working time rules or regulations in respect of agency workers would give UK employers a competitive advantage, and therefore would affect trade and investment. So, it seems unlikely that there will be any notable changes any time soon.

The UK is, however, able to diverge from future EU employment laws - but this ability is again limited. The EU can, within certain constraints and subject to an arbitration process, apply for “rebalancing measures” if it obtains proof that any such divergence has a material impact on trade or investment.

So, in short, Brexit would seem to mean very little for UK employments – but it will be interesting to watch how the UK Government approaches employment law developments on the continent in the future…

Joe Beeston is a Senior Associate in the Employment team.

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