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Bringing Staff Back From Furlough: A Checklist for Businesses

The government’s furlough scheme has acted as an essential lifeline for businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, helping many companies to stay afloat during this unprecedented period. With the scheme set to wind up within the coming months, these same businesses must now think carefully about how they transition their staff back to their normal working schedule.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) was introduced in March 2020, providing subsidies for employers to help them retain and cover 80% of the cost of paying their staff when their normal trading was stopped or disrupted by the national lockdowns. Now that pandemic conditions are easing and national restrictions are being lifted across the UK, the government will be aiming to end the scheme on September 30th 2021.

As such, businesses that have been making use of the scheme until this point must review the actions they will need to take to bring staff back from furlough, and to ensure they have made all of the necessary preparations.

Here, PHR Solicitors has prepared a checklist for businesses with furloughed staff to follow, which lays out the step-by-step process for ensuring a smooth transition back to regular work.

Step 1: Decide which staff will be returning from furlough

With CJRS support coming to a definitive end, the first and most important priority for your business is to decide whether to bring all of your furloughed workers back into the business, or if any roles are at risk of redundancy.

This is naturally going to be a difficult decision to make, and redundancies should not be taken lightly, but in some cases it may be necessary. For example, it may be the case that your business structure has changed significantly in the last year, or that you have downsized your commercial presence, meaning that not all of the furloughed jobs will still be viable once government support is rescinded.

If you are making staff redundant, it is vital to observe that furloughed workers have the same redundancy rights as any other employees, which means that the process needs to be conducted fairly, in accordance with employment law. They will be entitled to a statutory redundancy payment if they have been employed by the company for at least two years continuously, in addition to contractual redundancy entitlements calculated according to their pre-furlough salary rate.

It is also essential that you are able to demonstrate that any redundancies are made for fair reasons following a fair procedure, to reduce the risk of the redundancy being discriminatory. Failing to do so could result in the business being liable for legal action through an employment tribunal.

Step 2: Set out working hours and conditions for returning staff

Once it has been decided which employees will be retained by the business, you will need to get in touch with them to establish whether the terms of their employment will change upon their return from furlough.

In some cases, it may be necessary for staff members to return with amended or reduced hours, either in accordance with their preference or as a means of minimising the company’s costs and avoiding redundancy. Regardless of the reasons why these hours and conditions are changing, any new terms of employment need to be discussed and agreed with the member of staff in question, and reflected in an updated employment contract.

If more than 20 people are set to have their contractual terms amended upon their return from furlough, employers will need to collectively consult on these changes via staff representatives. In cases where the company is left with no choice but to change these terms without agreement, it may be necessary to terminate their existing contracts and make an offer to re-employ them on new terms, though this outcome is not desirable as anything other than a last resort.

Step 3: Notify employees of their planned return date

Once the terms of your employees’ return has been confirmed, it will be necessary to provide a date for them to resume their normal duties. The government has not specified a set notice period that must be given for bringing staff back from furlough, but it is always desirable to provide staff with as much time as possible to prepare.

Businesses do not need to notify HM Revenue & Customs when staff are returning from furlough, so you will be able to decide the best time to bring specific members of the team back into the workforce. This decision may be influenced by the needs of the business, or on whether any of the furloughed staff members are self-isolating or otherwise unavailable to work.

With the furlough scheme ending on September 30th, all staff members who are returning from furlough will need to have done so by this date.

Step 4: Confirm the details with returning staff in writing

When all of the details of your staff’s return from furlough have been finalised, you will need to set all of this out in writing, along with any additional information that they will require to ease their reintegration into the workforce.

This letter can include the following:

  • The end date of their furlough period
  • Information on their new working hours and conditions, including whether they will be working from home or on your company premises
  • Details on their new pay rate, whether they are returning to their pre-pandemic salary or accepting new salary terms
  • Instructions on new health and safety precautions that need to be followed on their return to the workplace
  • Guidance on their remaining annual holiday allowance

By setting out all of this information in writing, you can ensure that your workers have full clarity on how their return to the office will be handled.

Step 5: Create internal processes for reintegrating returning staff

Finally, businesses who are welcoming back staff from furlough will need to make sure they have put all of the necessary support measures in place to ensure that workers are able to safely and successfully reintegrate into the workforce, even if they have been away from their roles for a year or more.

These internal processes can take many forms, including:

  • Providing training, reinduction sessions and regular meetings to help furloughed workers get back up to speed with your new and ongoing projects
  • Assigning returning staff members a dedicated point of contact or work buddy to oversee their transition back into the team dynamic
  • Revising your safety measures to manage the risk of COVID-19 transmission posed by an increased headcount, including spacing out workstations, setting up team bubbles or establishing a home-working rota to minimise the number of people on site
  • Communicating closely with returning staff members to ensure they feel fully supported, with particular sensitivity to any health and wellbeing issues that may have arisen in their personal lives during the pandemic
  • Carefully managing holiday allocations across the team, to ensure that all staff members are able to their full annual leave allocations

By taking a tailored approach to developing appropriate policies for the specific needs of your returning staff, you will be able to facilitate a smooth transition for your staff and the wider business alike. This will give you the best possible chance of adapting quickly to post-pandemic norms, and helping your organisation get back on the pathway to growth.

Find out more

To find out more about the specifics of the furlough wind-down, consult the official government guidance on the CJRS, or the advice and resources available from Acas.

If you have any queries about the potential employment law implications of the end of the furlough scheme, PHR Solicitors are here to help. Get in touch with our employment law team today by calling us on 0151 666 9090.

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