Recalling Staff from Furlough
With all beginnings, there is an end. Now is the time for you to think about recalling staff from furlough. Businesses that have furloughed members of their team must prepare for bringing them back into the workplace. While there may be no formal end date to the government scheme, many businesses already find themselves in a position where they need to resume certain types of work, and so we want to run through important things you as an employer should be aware of and what you may need to consider or look out for while operating throughout the pandemic.
Every business will have their nuance for how they have chosen to utilise furlough and the job retention scheme in relation to continuing their operation, but broadly speaking businesses can be viewed as taking one of the following approaches:
- Your Business is not trading at all and all staff have been furloughed;
- Your Business is trading in a limited capacity, with some staff working from home or in company premises and others being furloughed; or
- The business is trading fully but all staff are working from home.
Note that a business will not have had to furlough individuals in the third option, but it is still important to consider how you want to think about recalling staff from furlough, and into their office environment.
Returning to the Workplace
Whichever of the above categories your company may fall under, the main aim for any business at this time should be to safeguard the wellbeing and health of employees. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some things that you should consider.
- Continuing Social Distancing
Even after recalling staff from furlough, it is highly likely that social distancing measures will remain in place for a significant period. Currently, people are advised to stay more than 2m away from each other, but over time social distancing measures will be eased. As it stands, people that can work from home are still being told to do so and with that in mind, and for as long as those recommendations are in place, it is reasonable for people to expect that social distancing measures will be respected and enforced by companies where it is possible to do so. Because of this, it is also then important and necessary to remain up to date with current government advice and recommendations.
- Communicate with Staff
With respect to the above, ensure that staff know what changes and considerations have been made by the workplace. This will go a long way into reassuring staff that their safety is still your top priority after recalling staff from furlough. Make sure staff are aware of any procedures you require them to follow, for example, what should they be doing if they start to feel unwell?
- Review Certain Processes Within the Workplace
You will have to make allowances and accept that you may not be able to resume “business as usual”. Regular team meetings, conducting interviews, using workplace kitchens, etc. are all regular activities that will be affected by your social distancing measures. Can you schedule times to use the kitchen? Can you perform meetings online? Do you need to invest in binoculars so that Ben can show you that funny cat video on his screen?
If the business has been closed for a while, it may be a good opportunity to have a deep clean before recalling staff from furlough. Otherwise, employees should be reminded to wash hands frequently and you should consider providing workstations, where possible, with cleaning products and sprays for keyboards and screens etc. Depending on your work environment, you may also want to consider providing additional PPE, such as facemasks or gloves, for when work near others is necessary.
It is worth acknowledging that being in lockdown may have had a negative impact on your workforce’s mental wellbeing. This may include ongoing anxiety around the pandemic, fear of being infected or other consequences brought about by being isolated for long periods. Having a re-orientation or re-induction for returning staff may be a good opportunity to address and acknowledge the situation, any changes that are being made, and also have an informal conversation after recalling staff from furlough so that you can better identify who may be struggling.
- Legal Implications
So long as you act reasonably and responsibly, putting employee safety first, it is highly unlikely there will be any legal implications on how you choose to do business after recalling staff from furlough. There are a couple of things that you may want to think about when bringing people back though:
When you initially placed a member of staff on furlough, or otherwise changed their working arrangement, you may have included a clause within the letter expressly outlining how much notice you would give them to be recalled. If this was the case then fantastic, you have your answer!
Some businesses will not have been able to do this, however, especially small businesses who simply acknowledged that they would want and need their staff to return to work as soon as practicably possible. If this describes your organisation, then your approach to recalling staff from furlough should (again) be to act reasonably. As soon as it becomes apparent to you that you have identified a date for which you need a member of staff to return, notify the employee of your intention and see if there are any issues that present themselves. There is no minimum length of notice that needs to be given by law, and because of this we are trying to preserve the genuine interests of both parties when considering giving notice for this change.
Recalling Staff from Furlough: Who Will You Recall?
If you are staggering people’s return to work when recalling staff from furlough, to avoid any discrimination claims you should carefully consider for what reason someone is being asked to come back in. Think about this process from the perspective of roles and functions instead of individuals and be prepared to justify your reasoning.
Difficulties in Recalling Staff from Furlough
The two previous points outline who to recall and how you should notify them, but problems can still arise. Across the UK childcare is still going to be a huge issue while schools are shut and it may be seen as unreasonable to expect an employee to return to work when they simultaneously have to look after children.
Similarly, while you may want to recall an individual from furlough and they share a house with someone showing COVID symptoms, you will not be able to have them work on-site for 2 weeks. In this instance, it could be argued that it would be discriminatory not to take them off furlough and put them on to SSP instead.
Unfortunately, the list goes on. Employees can feel like employers are taking advantage and employers may certainly have reasons to believe that employees may be taking advantage as well.
Unprecedented times that do not have any legal precedents call for the foundational reasoning behind your actions to fall back on human decency and – you guessed it – reasonableness. Have transparent conversations with your employees about the expectations and requirements of the business and listen to what they have to say as well. Everyone will have their own issues but as long as there remains a solid base of confidence and trust (an implied term within all employment contracts) between employer and employee, you should be able to navigate these choppy waters safely and confidently.
Where this does not work however, it may be time to turn to professional advice where risks can be assessed and managed on a case by case basis. Know that all businesses are learning as they go through these times and are simply trying to do the best by their staff.
At KUHR we are helping lots of different sized businesses in lots of different sectors to get through this time, but there are only a certain number of issues we can cover in a blog post like this! If you find you are really struggling or are an employer that just needs some reassurance over recalling staff from furlough, please don’t hesitate to pick up the phone to talk things through.
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