Candidates naturally worry before accepting jobs abroad - and sensible employers wishing to secure the best recruits should think about how they can help. In this blog, Employment Partner Juliet Carp looks at things UK employers can do to make employment offers more attractive for EU nationals now the Brexit clock is ticking.
1. Why the UK and why this job?
It is worth reflecting on why you might want to do this job in the UK. Do you want to join family or friends, enhance career progression, or simply to earn more money? How long will it take to achieve your goals? (Will you need to be in the UK beyond the likely Brexit timeframe?) And what are your other options? Your motivation will, naturally, impact the employment terms you will accept.
2. Your family?
A decision to accept a job abroad often has greater impact on family members. What will you give up? Do you own a house? Do you have a partner who wants to work, a child about to take exams or dependent parents? What sort of accommodation will you need, and how much will that cost in the UK? Do you already have financial commitments, and if so what currency are those commitments tied to? While family may be of paramount importance to you, employers can be limited in their ability to help directly, see further below.
3. How will the future look?
Taking account of the needs of the job, and your personal situation, how is the future likely to look? Are you likely to return home before the UK leaves the EU? How easy would it be to find another job when the assignment is over, or if things don’t work out? Would a big currency shift change your perspective?
4. Will your immigration status be checked when you arrive?
Yes. Employers and landlords must make immigration checks, and most prudent employers will insist on additional checks, eg of qualifications, references or criminal records. You should expect to be required to produce original documents to your employer, and to access essential services. Currently, “good” employers ask for immigration documents after an offer of employment is made.
5. Are you likely to meet UK immigration criteria if your EU passport is no longer enough?
If you cannot continue to meet immigration conditions you will not be able to live and work in the UK. The Government has made clear its intention to end EU nationals’ rights to freely move to the UK to live and work (though it is possible that Irish nationals will retain their special status, see St Patrick was a Welsh expat - and London Irish are still special!.) However, the end of a right to work in the UK on the basis of EU nationality alone would not necessarily mean an end to working here. Many nationals of non-EU countries already work in the UK. Immigration laws are changing rapidly but it might be worth checking to see whether you could meet other current criteria, eg because of role, family circumstances or investor status. You might be able to take steps now to improve your position. For example, are you eligible to apply for an additional UK passport, and if so should you apply now? You could also ask your employer to make contractual commitments to make things easier if immigration status is lost. Employers who have already secured an immigration “sponsor license” may find it easier to help.
6. What is your employer really offering you?
Employment terms are usually discussed informally, but the reality will not be clear until terms are confirmed in writing. Most employers will provide an employment contract together with a covering “offer letter”. You should check those documents carefully. You will need to understand the employment terms that will apply if you accept. You will also need clarity about pre-conditions, eg immigration, reference and other checks. Normally it is better not to resign from a current employment until you have a signed contract in hand and are confident that any outstanding conditions can be met. Senior employees, particularly those in bonus-driven roles, should take particular care to check incentive terms. All employees should check terms relating to termination of employment carefully.
7. How can your employer help?
Some employers will help, but this may depend, e.g. on the employer’s scale, your seniority and value to the business, their experience of managing mobility and whether there is a big pool of candidates. Ie this very much depends on your bargaining power. A highly paid senior employee who has been recruited for unique fit is much more likely to secure concessions. With Brexit looming, it seems likely that negotiating positions will shift, particularly where there are skills shortages. Some EU nationals who might previously have been happy with UK “local terms” may be able to demand more comfort.
"Expat terms” designed to give comfort to those accepting overseas roles might include, for example:
- terms designed to reduce the impact of currency fluctuations;
- contractual tax equalisation promises, cost of living allowances etc designed to protect net pay;
- assistance with preparation of tax returns (particularly for first and last years of the job);
- benefits to help mitigate the impact of a move on personal life, such as help with schools, accommodation or health cover; or
- reimbursement of relocation (and perhaps more importantly) repatriation expenses.
8. What will happen at the end? The most important piece of advice lawyers can usually give on a new contract is often to focus on what happens at the end, before the contract is signed. Not just at the natural end, but if things go wrong before that time. What will happen if the project is completed early? If you can no longer rely on your EU passport? If school doesn’t work out for your children? If you need to end a flat rental agreement early? If your partner gets sick?
And what could you do now to make the outcome better? Should you check your lease for early termination penalties? Would a long “notice period” in your employment contract help? Should bonus goals be adjusted? Would private medical cover help? Does your contract confirm that repatriation expenses will be paid or that you will be offered another job if you lose your UK immigration status? Will those promises really “put you right”?
9. Could your job be done another way?
And, of course, it is worth considering whether other options might work better for you, your family and your employer? Where there is more than one group company, which should employ you? Could you stay in your home country and work remotely? Could your family stay at home whilst you commute for work? Could the business itself, or part of it, be relocated to your home country?
10. How easy would it be for your employer to give you what you are looking for?
Extra comfort and alternative arrangements could be more difficult and expensive for your employer than may immediately appear to be the case. For example:
- Your employer may be constrained by discrimination rules: it may not be possible to accommodate personal circumstances lawfully, e.g. to give you better benefits than a “local hire” in the same role just because you need to relocate your family.
- Some alternative employment structures can be surprisingly expensive to implement. For example, doing some kinds of work “remotely” in your home country instead of the UK might expose your employer to additional corporation tax or social security bills.
- Many larger employers have policies designed to promote consistency, contain costs or help with efficient management. It is usually much easier to secure concessions that do not entail a breach of established “policy”.
- It is often easier to secure an increase to “less visible” remuneration, such as bonus, than to secure additional benefits, such a car.
Time spent by employer and employee anticipating and exploring the other party’s needs is likely to lead to arrangements that work better for everyone. And the party who prepares best for negotiation usually gets the better bargain.