Article 50 Triggered: What This Means for UK Businesses with EU employees

The Queen granted Royal Assent to the Bill to trigger Article 50 on 16th March 2017. This gave Theresa May the power to begin the Brexit process. 

The news was broken by Commons Speaker John Bercow, who said: “I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent 1967, that her majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following acts: Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2017, European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017.” 

In this post, we will discuss what Article 50 means in terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU) and provide UK businesses with employees from the EU some advice on how they can be ready for Brexit if and when changes to employment legislation are announced.

What is Article 50?

Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon sets out the rules for leaving the EU. The Lisbon Treaty came into law in December 2009 and is an agreement signed by the heads of state and governments of EU member countries, which is designed to make the EU “more democratic, more transparent and more efficient”.    

The Prime Minister is set to trigger the exit clause on 29th March, which means the Treaties adhered to by EU members will no longer apply to the UK at the end of the negotiation period envisaged in Article 50. 

By April 2019, if there is unanimous agreement among the 27 EU country members, the UK should have untied itself from the EU. However, negotiations amongst the 27 countries about the UK’s relationship with the EU are likely to begin in June and could take over five years. Discussions will take place about a new trading relationship with the EU and terms of entry to and from EU countries for residents of both the UK and the EU, which the UK government hopes will not have a big negative effect on the UK economy.

Advice for businesses

While the exact requirements for businesses are for now still unclear, the announcement that Theresa May will trigger Article 50 by the end of March takes us a step closer to leaving the EU. Although nothing has been declared, there are steps that UK businesses can take to prepare for Brexit and protect the three million employees from the EU.

It is vital that your business knows the residence status of its employees, and ensures full compliance with right-to-work and other checks that you are obliged to conduct. You may, in future, need to familiarise yourself with immigration sponsor and application processes - something we can help you with.

As the rules and regulations surrounding Brexit become clearer, it’s important you keep your staff in the loop to reassure or warn them about their future at the company. If you don’t have any information to share, announcing that you are going to commit to communicating any changes should help to reassure employees and demonstrate you are going to be keeping on top of, and sharing, any Brexit news that affects them. 

If you operate in the EU or interact with EU businesses and consumers, you should also familiarise yourself with new data protection law, such as the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which are set to be introduced on 25th May 2018, to ensure you are taking care of sensitive data. Until the legislation comes to fruition and in the run-up to complying with GDPR, you will be expected to still comply with the Data Protection Act 1988. 

However, if the UK ceases to be an EU member state by the summer of 2018, compliance to the GDPR may only be for a short period of time as the legislation will not need to be adhered to unless the UK is accepted as a European Economic Area (EEA).

With Article 50 being triggered at the end of March, decisions should begin to be made on the UK’s future and its relationship with the EU, making it clear what UK businesses need to do to ensure employees are treated correctly.  

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