With the EU referendum less than a week away lawyers Nigel Cragg and James Wilkes explain how employment, tax and personal injury laws could change if we vote to leave

Employment law

A significant proportion of the UK’s employment law comes from the EU and, in theory, voting to leave would give the Government the option to repeal all of it. However, that is not expected to happen.

Holiday pay and the number of hours you can legally be asked to work are two areas that are highly unlikely to see any significant changes.

Under current EU laws, adapted by the UK, workers in full-time jobs are entitled to 5.6 weeks of holiday pay, although bank holidays can be included. This is now a well-established principle and any attempts to repeal or dilute it would likely be met with tremendous opposition from both workers and trade unions.

Any attempts made to amend current laws on working hours would also be met with strong opposition. Under EU rules the number of hours a full-time employer can legally request you to work is 48 in any seven-day period, although employees can opt-out of this scheme.

The movement of workers however is an area that is more likely to see significant change if the UK were to leave the EU. Under current rules workers from EU member states have the automatic right to work in the UK, and vice versa. If we voted to leave those rights would no longer exist and new agreements would need to be drafted.

Irrespective of us leaving, it would appear that key pieces of EU law would continue to have influence over the employer employee relationship. A good example is the Equality Act 2010 which implements the UK’s laws against discrimination. Many provisions within the Act are based upon EU principles.

Tax law

Whilst it is difficult to summarize the potential tax implications of leaving the EU, one key consideration will be the impact on export duties paid by businesses shipping goods abroad. Currently the system is harmonised, which means agreements are in place about how much tax we pay to EU members on particular products we import into their countries.

The UK also benefits from more than 30 free trade agreements that the EU has negotiated around the world. This means certain countries have agreed to a less or even nil rate of duty on products being imported from EU member states. It is likely that the UK would have to renegotiate these agreements, although that’s not to say those renegotiations wouldn’t result in an even better deal.

James Wilkes – Associate Director

Personal injury law

Laws surrounding injuries suffered during car accidents abroad would almost certainly change if we vote to leave the EU.

There have been seven EU directives regarding the motor industry since 1972 dealing with compulsory insurance and compensation for untraced or uninsured drivers.

The EU harmonised the laws across the member states so no matter which country you are in you have the same insurance protection – that includes protection against uninsured or untraced drivers.

Right now if you are hit by an uninsured or untraced driver anywhere in the EU you can still claim compensation for any injuries suffered. For example, if a German was hit by a driver in the UK, who fled the scene, they could seek compensation for their injuries from the Motor Insurance Bureau. A similar body is in place in Germany for drivers from the UK and other EU countries. However, if we vote to leave we will need to renegotiate separate deals with each of the member states. Whether we would still have the same level of insurance protection would remain to be seen.

Laws designed to prevent injury at work would also be likely to change if we vote to leave. Currently the UK is bound by rulings in the European Court that were introduced in 1992. One of these directives dictates that if you are injured at work using work equipment you have an automatic right to compensation against the employer who owns that equipment.

However, if we leave the EU that directive would no longer apply and, if no further changes were made to our current laws, employees would instead fall under the UK’s Health and Safety at Work Act – as revised by The Enterprise Act 2013. Under that law you don’t have an automatic right to compensation, and, if your employer were able to prove they carried out regular checks on equipment, even if it later failed, they may not be liable.

Personal injury and the Human Rights Act

Personal injury laws also fall under parts of the Human Rights Act, which was introduced in 1998 to meet EU rulings. If we leave the EU the Human Rights Act could be revoked and replaced with something else, possibly a Bill of Rights, as already mooted by the Government. This could have serious consequences if the Bill of Rights doesn’t end up offering the same level of protection.

For example, one of the articles within the Human Rights Act relates to the right to life and this was cited in a case in 2011 when soldiers fighting in Afghanistan argued some had been injured or killed because the equipment they were provided with was inadequate. Under British law the Ministry of Defence has immunity against any kind of legal action if a soldier is injured or killed in battle. But lawyers successfully argued, all the way to the Supreme Court, that under the Human Rights Act these soldiers had a “right to life” and a claim could be brought against the MOD. Would a Bill of Rights or something similar have afforded them a similar victory? Like so many questions surrounding what will happen if we leave the EU, it’s impossible to give an answer, and know for certain that it’s the right one, until it actually happens.

Nigel Cragg – Head of Personal Injury

This information is not intended to indicate any preference for staying within, or leaving, the European Union.

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