Employers may need to act fast to ensure they do not fall foul of sudden legal changes triggered by a Brexit milestone, an employment law expert has warned.

Daniel Gorry, a newly-appointed Director in the Employment law team at Scottish legal firm Lindsays, says businesses would be wise not to forget that the clock is ticking on potentially significant shifts in legislation.

December 31 is the date on which all retained pieces of EU law in the United Kingdom will automatically expire - unless legislation is brought in to retain them.

That leaves the possibility open of legal changes between now and the end of the year which employers could face having to implement quickly.

Mr Gorry said: “With the time that’s passed, and all that’s happened since the Brexit vote, people would be forgiven for having forgotten that there are potentially some pretty significant legal changes on the horizon, not least when it comes to employment law. It’s a situation that businesses would be well advised to watch closely.

“For decades, EU legislation has been a major influence on the rules that businesses in the UK have had to operate within when it comes to working with their staff.

“With the December deadline looming, there still doesn’t seem to be any indication from the UK Government about what it plans to do in terms of whether it retains those EU laws for longer, or whether legislation to reform those laws is proposed.

“It’s a waiting game, although time is clearly running out. There are legitimate concerns that if there’s going to be significant legal reform there is not enough time for them to be properly considered and enacted.

“As lawyers, we are standing ready to digest developments and advise clients as they happen.”

Political power over employment law is reserved at Westminster, with legislation covering the whole of the UK.

While, under the Brexit agreement, retained EU employment law automatically expires on December 31, the UK Government can extend that deadline to give Ministers more time to decide what to do with particular pieces of legislation.

But the maximum extension is June 23, 2026 - the tenth anniversary of the referendum which decided the country’s departure from the European Union.

Major areas of employment law driven by EU policy include:

  • The Transfer of Undertakings Regulations (TUPE). These are designed to protect employees’ rights when their employment is transferred to another employer, including when businesses are sold or contracts are outsourced.
  • Working Time Regulations - the rules which contain the right to paid holiday, rest breaks and limits on working hours.
  • “Worker” rights - providing protection for fixed term, part-time or agency workers.
  • Aspects of discrimination legislation, including on the grounds of religion and sexual orientation.

There are influences also on a number of other areas, including some rights for pregnant women and those on maternity leave, as well as health and safety rules.

Mr Gorry added: “We would hope for further detail of the government’s proposals shortly. But it’s a situation that employers cannot afford to lose sight of.

“Even if there are to be no changes this year, we should know in the coming months what the actual timetable of employment policy change is going to be in the medium term. Once the situation becomes clear, everyone would be best advised to start planning towards that - taking legal advice where necessary.”

While the scope of potential change for tailored UK policy has not yet been outlined, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement includes a clause that, if changes to UK employment law have an impact on trade or investment with the EU, then measures can be taken by Brussels to address them. These could include tariffs.

Respected Scottish legal advice

Lindsays is a highly regarded legal firm for people and businesses, with offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee. It recently announced a merger with Miller Hendry, which will add Perth and Crieff to its portfolio from May 31.

Its specialist employment lawyers advise on all aspects of employment law.

Mr Gorry recently joined the team, based in Glasgow, from an employment law and HR advisory organisation, where he was its Legal Director in Scotland.

The vastly-experienced lawyer’s background includes advising on complex company restructures, as well as developing an in-depth knowledge of the education and leisure sectors.

He has appeared in employment and appeal tribunal cases involving issues including disability status, sex discrimination and TUPE regulations.

On his new role, he said: “It’s great to be part of the team at Lindsays. The firm has a terrific - and incredibly well-earned - reputation in employment law.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to join at a time of growth. Lindsays is an institution in the Scottish legal sector and is highly regarded, which was another attraction. While continuing to grow, it has retained its own identity.

“The myriad of legal issues affecting employers and staff - often rapidly evolving - means the need for professional advice has never been greater. I am looking forward to helping the team grow further as we support increasing numbers of businesses and people.”

Ben Doherty, Partner and Head of Employment Law at Lindsays, has been delighted to welcome Daniel to the team.

He said: “To have someone of his experience join our ranks really demonstrates the strong reputation our firm has for providing quality and considered legal advice to employers. Daniel’s arrival will undoubtedly further strengthen our services for clients.

“Employers face no shortage of challenges at the moment, which require careful counsel. There’s the ongoing impact of Brexit, of course, but also those stemming from the legacy of Covid-19 and the cost of doing business crisis and more.

“Our team - both in employment law and our sister HR consultancy service, is perfectly positioned to support as they navigate these.”

Daniel Gorry is available to support businesses and people with employment law issues. You can reach him by emailing DanielGorry@lindsays.co.uk.