Hot topic: Expressing EU referendum opinions
Daniel Ellis and Lisa Leighton, June 08, 2016
Returning by Ferry from France last week the car was searched, even under the bonnet also all the lorries by French police.It occurred to me that in the event of Brexit this would not happen. It ...
Read More Maureen
June 11, 2016 08:17
Some business leaders have communicated opinions on Brexit to employees. Is it the right thing to do?
Daniel Ellis, employment partner at Baker & McKenzie says:
"Employers need to tread carefully. Communicating a balanced view of the arguments shouldn’t give rise to any difficulties. However, expressing an opinion could be problematic.
"Employees are protected from harassment, which includes a working environment that has become ‘hostile’ or ‘intimidating’ for a reason related to a protected characteristic. A philosophical belief is a protected characteristic. Could a belief in the need to stay in or leave the EU amount to a philosophical belief? Based on current case law, arguably yes. A key issue is whether the belief is ‘worthy of respect in a modern society’. Views on Brexit should meet this test.
"Once the employer expresses its own view this may well encourage debate among the workforce, perhaps leading to heated discussions that cross the harassment line.
"Finally, where an employer creates a hostile working environment there would be a risk of a claim for breach of the implied term of trust and confidence, which would entitle an employee to resign and claim constructive dismissal."
Lisa Leighton, HR director for Hallmark UK and Ireland says:
"As leaders we have a duty of care to act in the best interests of the organisation and its employees. Some businesses do believe it is the right decision to offer opinions to staff, but I believe it’s more important to give confidence to workers that leaders are planning for either scenario, rather than stating a particular stance.
"Personally I believe staying in Europe would be better for British business, but this is a matter for the public to decide. As employers we have to empower our colleagues to make their own decisions by providing information on what either outcome would mean to the organisation, so that they are able to make an informed personal choice.
"During times of change such as this the key thing is to ensure good levels of communication. Going silent during this time would be the wrong thing to do."
Check back tomorrow for part two of this Hot Topic, featuring Full Fact's Will Moy and Siemens' Toby Peyton-Jones