The ending of furlough on the 30th September 2021 will likely be a troubling time for many businesses and individuals, bringing up concerns and issues that will need to be addressed accordingly. It’s estimated that the job retention scheme, otherwise known as furlough, has cost the government a reported £68.5 billion according to Statista. The scheme has helped thousands of businesses and millions of people, keeping unemployment levels within check as the threat of the pandemic was predicted to cause mass redundancies across the nation.
After being extended numerous times over the course of the past 18 months, furlough will conclude at the end of September. Many employees will be returning to work for the first time in a while and as such there may be worries around them coming back from both an employer and employee perspective.
Our Head of Human Resources, Sharon Brooks, shares her thoughts on the processes to follow for both employers and employees, whether terms of employment can be changed and what are the main things which need to be evaluated as furloughed workers return.
How much notice do employers need to give employees that they are bringing back from furlough and how should this be communicated appropriately?
Employers should check if an amount of notice was stated in the furlough agreement. Otherwise, employers should be fair when giving notice of return-to-work duties, taking into account any personal arrangements employees may need to make. I would say a minimum of 2 weeks is fair, but it of course depends on each individual situation. Employers can use a variety of communication methods, such as email, phone call or letter. Setting up a face-to-face call between a manager and furloughed employee will help as work expectations and the role can be discussed thoroughly and attentively.
What is the process of returning furlough workers regarding HMRC? Is there any protocol which needs to be followed?
HMRC does not need to be informed of employees returning from furlough. Employers are required to keep records of all communications with employees such as agreements, records of claims made, including the claim period for each employee, claim reference numbers and calculations. For flexible furlough, the employees’ usual working hours together with calculations for 6 years are also required.
Once furlough ends and a staff member is asked to return, does their terms of employment change or can it be up for negotiation?
Terms of employment remain the same following a period when an employee was furloughed. If employers cannot bring employees back to their pre-furlough working hours, the employer should enter consultation to discuss a change to the terms of employment. Where a change to the terms of employment results in consultation involving 20 or more employees, the employer will need to collectively consult with elected employee representatives or trade unions.
Employers should take care when entering into negotiations to change terms of employment, to ensure that no employees are discriminated against.
What other options are there for employers who simply cannot afford to bring back a full-time member of staff but do not want to get rid of them?
Employers should check the employees’ terms of employment to identify if it contains a flexibility clause. Even with such a clause, employers should enter consultation to discuss the possibility of changing an employee’s terms of employment. Where agreement cannot be reached, employers can consider dismissing and offering to re-engage employees under new terms, but this is complex and runs the risk of employees with more than 2 years of employment service raising a claim with the Employment Tribunal, or alternatively taking alternative employment.
What are some of the most important things that employers should consider with staff returning from furlough?
Employees may feel apprehensive about returning to work duties and open communication is key to assisting furloughed employees back to work. Employees who have been in regular communication with employers will find it easier to adjust. An informal chat with a non-furloughed worker to discuss any workplace changes that have occurred and how employees are working, whether still at home, hybrid or office based and how team or company communication is taking place, will help to ease concerns. Likewise, an informal chat with a manager to discuss any changes to an employees’ work and how they will be eased back into work, together with regular communication to check in on the employee and how they’re feeling, will all help.
We hope this has outlined some of the concerns which may arise for employers and employees as furloughed workers return. If you require any further information on any government schemes, or anything accounting related for that matter, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us at Nordens where one of our trusted advisors would be happy talking you through your query.