On 23rd June 2016 UK citizens were given the right to vote on whether the country should remain in or leave the European Union. On 24th June 2016 the result was delivered. Fifty two percent of those who voted, opted for Leave.
Views on the result are ongoing but it seems to us that the more pressing issues are much more immediate than a departure from the European Union which is unlikely to occur for a number of years. The immediate issue which has and will continue to affect families, friendships, communities and the workplace is the reaction to the outcome of the referendum. The impending Brexit has evoked much emotion for everyone currently living and working in this country. Emotions vary from delight, relief and celebration to outrage, frustration, uncertainty and panic.
Only this weekend the divide was most apparent from press coverage and social media. Never before have we seen a topic cause such a divide between “friends” who the previous week shared photos, jokes and banter. The emotions are real, dangerous and have the potential of causing long term division. Resentment is aplenty. It is overflowing onto the streets with small to largescale demonstrations taking place and more planned.
All of the above may be manageable if we were all able to keep ourselves to ourselves until emotions had calmed. However, all these emotions are, from Monday to Friday, now being forced together under one roof. That roof being the workplace. Whilst uncertainty, debate and fallout from the vote continues, there is risk of emotional reaction amongst staff which in turn may trigger a chain reaction of response, upset and grievances galore.
The workplace as we know it has become diverse and varied with minority groups being protected from discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 provides protection from discrimination whilst the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides protection from unreasonable or unfair behaviour by employers or work colleagues. All of this legislation is still in place and is likely to remain for some time after Brexit. Indeed, we believe it would take a much more radical party to promote significant change to the Equality Act 2010.
With the vast amount of public debate on social media, it is critical that both employers and employees work together to ensure that sparks of emotion, heated discussions, disagreements or inappropriate behaviours inside and outside the workplace are properly managed. Upset or outrage flowing from the referendum will not be adequate defence to either an employer or employee.
We believe that each and every employer now has a huge responsibility on their shoulders. It is critical that the country’s employers rise to the challenge and play their part in not only driving business but maintaining calm, respect and good behaviours in the workplace. It would be only too easy to turn a blind eye to what would before the referendum have been considered to be inappropriate or down right offensive. This must not happen. Failing to immediately nip such behaviours or reactions in the bud will only cause loss of control, future grievances and a complete shift in what may have once been a “happy ship”.
A few days before the referendum we contacted a local radios offering our comment on the impact of Brexit in the workplace. We were met with confusion and a disinterest. Not even the media had joined the dots together. One of the biggest issues which has had possibly the least commentary is the practical impact the referendum is going to have on relations in the workplace.
We send a very clear message to employers. Employers be on your guard, alert, dig deep and ensure you have the right support or resource on hand should you need it.
We have no doubt the country will survive and that certainty and calm will be restored at some stage. For now, we will play our part providing support and guidance where we can.