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Bringing Workers Back Off Furlough

Many businesses now are in the planning stages of how to get their current furloughed staff back into the workplace safely, whilst also thinking of ensuring their businesses survive the effects caused from the COVID-19 crisis.

It seems very probable that there will need to be some form of social distancing for some time to come. It may mean for your business that those staff who can work from home may be expected to carry on doing so. Those businesses where there is a need to return to the workplace, employers will need to consider detailed risk management approaches to safeguard their employees’ health and minimise the risk of infection. It’s therefore essential that employers continue to base any plans for returning to the workplace on up-to-date Government and public health guidance in relation to COVID-19. The Health and Safety Executive has published advice and guidance relating to COVID-19 on its website which may be useful when considering health and safety measures.

Pay specific attention to staff who have particular requirements (e.g. health issues, disability, childcare or other caring responsibilities). They may not be in a position to return as quickly to ‘normal’ working. There should be a discussion with staff on this, and care should be taken to listen to the reasons for employees’ concerns, try to find an agreed resolution, and keep records of these discussions.

Good communication is key to your staff as well – this is to ensure that they are clear about what procedure they should follow if they begin to feel unwell, both in the workplace and at home. You should also continue to remind staff about good hygiene practices such as regular and effective handwashing, and providing hand sanitiser. Ongoing communication is also key to help reassure them that their health, well-being and safety is your top priority.

You will need to consider some practical measures as well:

  • How staff will be able to maintain a 2m physical distance between each other?
  • How will you manage meetings, interviews and other interactions?
  • What about communal areas such as canteens or kitchen areas?
  • How can you implement resourcing strategies to support physical distancing such as ‘cohorting’ (i.e. keeping teams of workers working together and as small as possible), or staggering working hours so that not all staff are in at the same time?
  • Depending on your work environment, do you need to provide additional PPE such as gloves or masks? Do you need to train staff on how to use these correctly?

Short term working/Redundancy

When the government furlough scheme ends (currently set for 30th June, although this may be extended further) your business may still not need to bring all its existing workforce back. In this case you have a few options:

  • Agree reduced working hours with some or all staff
  • Furlough staff for a further period, at your own expense
  • Lay-offs
  • Consider redundancies

You may have an unpaid ‘lay-off’ clause in your employees’ contracts – if so, you should seek advice on how to implement such a clause. Staff will still be entitled to minimum guarantee payments for some of the period; it is also important to note that an unpaid lay-off exceeding 4 weeks in length entitles an employee to consider themselves redundant and claim a redundancy payment from you.

If you are in the unfortunate position where you are considering redundancies immediately, then now is the time to ensure that you have planned out a thorough rationale and business case for any proposed redundancies. Whilst there can be a clear business case of why you are having to implement these redundancies, you must still ensure that you are following legal guidelines for consultation and to avoid a risk of an unfair dismissal claim with anyone over 1 year length of service.

If you are planning to make 20 or more people redundant (but less than 100 people) you must start collective consultation 30 days before giving notice of the first redundancy. For over 100 planned redundancies, then it must be 90 days before giving notice of first redundancy.  Considering when you will begin consultation is a key consideration; if you are planning on making redundancies once the CJRS ends then consider the length of time consultation will take.

Remember that redundant staff are entitled to receive notice (or payment in lieu); holidays and other contractual entitlements; and a redundancy payment if they qualify with 2 years length of service or more. This is a cost your business will have to pay, so ensuring you have a calculation of what this will cost you is something to consider now.

Communication with your staff is key. Keeping people informed of what your business is planning on doing – whether it is good or bad news – will help individual make their own decisions in these uncertain times.

A guide such as this cannot possibly cover every business situation, so we encourage you to reach out to us to discuss any of these areas and how it is impacting your business.  

Cora Degan