Following the “Leave Vote”, there has been the inevitable legal commentary and speculation about what Brexit means. Much has focussed on immigration and the triggering (or not) of Article 50, and to a lesser degree there has been speculation about which employment laws will be repealed or amended. Almost every commentary you read or hear, concludes with a version of “we’ll have to wait and see”. However, surprisingly, there has been little to no commentary about the immediate implications – with most writers, bloggers and speakers suggesting that we will see no immediate difference. “Nothing has changed”, “Article 50 has not been triggered” etc. Whilst it may be true that there have not been any changes to legislation, or indeed our status as a member state of the EU, there are certainly other immediate, and more pressing, matters for employers to deal with. The “status quo” has not been maintained.
One immediate concern for migrants and therefore their employers must be the recent spike in unpleasant and frequently racist incidents being reported since the outcome of the vote was announced. Some commentators have tried to put this down to “media spin” but, on any construction, that simply cannot be not the case. Too many people have a personal story of racist abuse to report. Whether comments have been made to them, to others that they know or know of, there are certainly too many personal incidents for the current tensions not to be taken very seriously. Setting aside the stories trending on social media, only this morning a school mum has reported that one neighbour was told, in front of her 5 year old son, that “you will need to go home soon”, and that another had received an anonymous abusive phone call referring to his “wife’s skin colour”. Hearing of one such incident in a morning is cause enough for serious concern, but the same person hearing of two in such a short space of time and in such close proximity is alarming!
Many migrants are understandably concerned by the current tensions. Social media shows large numbers reporting incidents of racial abuse, or reporting that they now feel unwelcome. Similar reports are being received from ex-pats living in France, with reports of market traders singing songs about the English “going home”.
Such intolerances will inevitably not be kept out of the workplace and employers need to be mindful and supportive of everyone that may be vulnerable. Whilst the EU vote has been the trigger, it seems that the racism it has provoked in (one hopes) small pockets of the public is not being confined to those of EU origin. Anyone it seems, is currently fair game! Ignoring tensions and the potential for conflict will almost certainly have dramatic effects. Employers may lose employees who take the view that in a country where they feel unwelcome, and in such an uncertain world, certainty in their country of origin is the lesser of two evils. Equally employers could see an increase in workplace grievances, the potential for discrimination and harassment claims, and ultimately Employment Tribunal proceedings.
All employers should be reminding their workforce of the importance for tolerance and inclusivity. There will be differing views as to whether the “Leave Vote” was a good or bad thing, and debate is not a bad thing but it does not justify disrespectful or discriminatory comments. Employers should be cautioning their workforce to report any concerning incidents so that they can be dealt with in accordance with usual practices, making use of “whistleblowing” or “speak up” policies where appropriate.
Equally all employees, irrespective of their migrant status should be reminded that in law, as yet, nothing has changed (and in relation to discrimination legislation almost certainly never will) and that they will be afforded appropriate protections against any form of discrimination, harassment or bullying. Employers failing to manage any discriminatory acts or comments (including over social media) may well find themselves with a lot more to worry about in the short term than when, how and if Article 50 is triggered!