How to protect your workforce post-Brexit
People are at the heart of any business and the Brexit negotiations have given both employers and their European workforces a bumpy ride so far.
Despite recent announcements by the Government beginning to shed light on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, businesses of all shapes and sizes need to get the wheels in motion to ensure they are in the best possible position to secure their workforce going forward.
With our recent research showing that over 50 percent of UK businesses have no plans to analyse potential immigration scenarios and the impact on the workforce, it’s clear there is still some significant work to be done by the UK business community.
However, with eyes firmly fixed on the future, rather than on the past or present, employers can start taking some practical steps now to ensure that they can be partially prepared, whatever the future holds.
Five step business immigration action plan:
1. Review your employment profile
Rushing and making decisions affecting the workplace post-Brexit is an unwise move and in order to plot a pragmatic and logical approach, it’s essential that you understand the employment landscape within the business.
Key insights which you need to know as an employer include the number of employees and their respective nationalities, and where relevant their immigration status. It’s often all too easy to let crucial tasks such simple right to work checks fall by the wayside as unnecessary admin, but gathering this information has never been more important, and taking a step back to assess the workforce you have is an essential piece of groundwork in helping to secure residence rights going forward.
2. Check, check and double check
Just as important as gathering information about your workforce is verifying that it is correct and meets the appropriate criteria for fulfilling obligatory right to work checks. Not only is this key for building an accurate picture of the workforce profile within the business, but it is a statutory duty to prevent illegal working in the UK and could prove costly for the business if employees are found to be working illegally in the UK.
The fines imposed on businesses who are deemed to have been lax in their right to work checks, for example failing to keep copies of passports and identity documents, are significant, with penalties of up to £20,000 per worker slapped on some organisations. Alongside this, you could find your sponsor licence at risk, putting the brakes on any further plans to recruit skilled workers from abroad in future.
However, it’s important to not fear the unknown but prepare for it as much as possible. Properly checking and evaluating employee documents should become a natural part of business operations as well as preparation for recruiting in a future outside of the EU.
3. Start a dialogue
Mixed messages and powerful rhetoric have dominated the Brexit immigration debate so far and whilst uncertainty has been felt across the UK, it’s likely that your employees, particularly those from the EU, may be feeling that they are on shaky ground.
The best thing that you can do as an employer is communicate. Reassure employees that you’re doing everything in your power to secure their residence and future employment with your business and that they remain an integral part of the team and your future business plans. .
How this dialogue is opened up will depend on your business and what works for one organisation may not work for others. Possible options include immigration workshops and discussions, business-wide surveys or Q&As communicating important information to staff. The most important thing is taking on a supporting role, letting your workers know that they’re not going through this alone.
4. Set aside a budget
Whilst the immigration status of EU workers up until the end of the transition period in 2021 has been clarified, there is still uncertainty about what will happen thereafter.
Failing to prepare for this could have a serious impact on business operations and it’s vital that you have an immigration plan in place. This should include information about workers which you absolutely must retain, research into potential new sources of recruitment and detail about how existing business support networks can be leveraged. However, all of this comes at a cost and you must be thinking now about setting aside budgets to cover this.
If you’re an employer in the UK who is already used to sourcing workers from outside of the EU, the costs of sponsoring someone to come to live and work here will be well known. If you’re used to sourcing labour from the EU, the financial burden of sponsoring someone to work in the UK could be a shock – costs range from an immigration skills charge of up to £1,000 per person, per annum, along with other immigration costs such as a health charges and visa application fees.
By considering how much it will potentially cost ahead of time to retain or recruit workers essential to the running of the business, you essentially create a safety net so that even in the worst situation provisions are in place to help secure key workers.
5. Build close links with your people
It’s important that a meaningful connection is made between management and the workforce and with more potential turbulent times ahead, making sure the business is listening and acting on any vital tasks relating to immigration changes, should be a high priority.
Different businesses have different cultures and there is no one size fits all approach to building links with the workforce. However, for businesses which already employ a large number of EU citizens, it may be effective to employ a bilingual representative as a ‘go between’, to pass messages and information between management and workers.
This person on the ground can not only reassure workers that ‘we don’t want to lose you’, but can also help with questions or problems in a native tongue, providing guidance where needed. If you’re planning on distributing a large amount of information relating to immigration, consider printing multiple copies in the different languages that represent your workforce make-up.
Preparing early is crucial. The Government has begun to shed a little more light on the immigration landscape up until the end of the proposed transition period in 2021. However, waiting and thinking everything will fall into place highly unwise. Getting simple procedures in place and taking time to properly understand the make-up your workforce will pay dividends and will help reassure both yourself and your workers that they do have a future in the UK.