The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is due to end on October 31, and is already being tapered out to help get the economy back on track. So for many businesses, if they haven’t already, now is the time to start considering if, when and how they can bring back their furloughed employees.
In one of our recent webinars, David Rushmere and Jackie Cuneen from Machins Solicitors explored the practicalities and challenges employers face in un-furloughing employees. Here, we share some of the main insights from the webinar.
The practicalities of un-furloughing employees
As Jackie explains, when planning for both the short-term and the long-term, communication will be key.
“Key is communicating your plans to your employees, on both an individual level and a collective level. There will have to be communication about what you’re proposing to do, and as to when, who, and how.”
This includes communicating with furloughed employees what they will be coming back to. Has anything changed? For example, some businesses will have taken off in a whole different direction, and job roles and working hours may be changing as a result.
And will employees be going back to the physical workplace? If so, it’s important to communicate what health and safety measures have been put in place to protect employees, such as staggered working hours, implementing social distancing measures and making hand sanitiser accessible.
Choosing who to un-furlough
Employers with a number of furloughed employees who all do the same role may face tough decisions about who to bring back first.
Jackie stresses the importance of applying fair and objective selection criteria;
“There has to be a good business reason for who you bring back. Avoid making assumptions about who might want to return and who might not, as you may end up inadvertently discriminating against certain employees.”
She advises talking to your employees to see who would like to come back. Some people may have other commitments that make it harder to return now. But you don’t know unless you speak with them.
If you previously stated in written or verbal communication how much notice you would give furloughed employees before asking them to return to work, Jackie warns that you must stick to it where possible. If you didn’t, it’s still a good idea to try and give people as much notice as you can.
You will also need something in writing to confirm the un-furlough agreement. Here you can also confirm any changes to what their role looks like - even if it’s only a temporary change.
Dealing with vulnerable employees
Vulnerable employees may include carers, shielding employees, as well as those who are disabled or bereaved. Again, it’s important not to assume that vulnerable employees won’t want to be un-furloughed. As ever, communicating with them to find out how they feel about returning to work will be important.
It may be that working from home, if possible, would suit some vulnerable employees. So try to be as flexible as you can in terms of how they return to work.
If some vulnerable employees have a real issue about coming back, Jackie advises that the best option is to keep them on furlough until the end of October, if you can.
Another option, as David explains in the webinar, is flexi-furlough. This may be an appealing option for employers who aren’t yet ready to bring back employees full-time.
“Employers can claim for the hours their employees are not working calculated by reference to their usual hours. For worked hours, employees will be paid in accordance with their employment contract and employers will be responsible for paying the tax and NICs.”
One possible option is for someone to be ‘brought out of furlough’ one week each month. But David warns that where the working week crosses over into a new month it can become complicated because of the way claims are submitted on a monthly basis.
It’s also important to note that under 'Furlough scheme 2.0', only employees who were furloughed before 10th June are eligible for furlough now. In other words, you can’t now furlough anyone who wasn’t furloughed under the initial scheme. One of the few exceptions is people returning from maternity or shared parental leave.
As the furlough scheme is being designed to be tapered out, you also can’t now claim for more employees than you submitted under a previous claim. For example, if you furlough five employees one month, you can’t raise it to six the next month.
The basis of the payments is also beginning to taper out. In July and August, employers can continue to claim 80% up to £2,500. In September, they can claim 70% up to £2,187.50 and in October, 60% up to £1,785. The employee, however, continues to receive 80% up to £2,500 up until the end of October.
If your company isn’t yet ready to bring back your employees or still won’t be at the end of October, there are some alternative options that may save you from having to make redundancies.
These include asking employees to take holiday, unpaid leave, or parental leave if it's available to them. This can also come in handy if an employee doesn’t want to return to work, for example, if they are vulnerable or have childcare needs. And if an employee is willing to, taking a sabbatical could be another option.
Again, as David reiterates, the key thing here is to communicate with your employees to see what arrangements you can come to.
For more insights on the furlough scheme and advice on bringing your furloughed employees back to work, watch the webinar here:
Machins Solicitors provide specialist advice and assistance both for businesses, covering aviation law, commercial law, litigation, property, employment and debt recovery. To find out more, visit the website.