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30 September 2021

With furlough under the Job Retention Scheme set to end today, 30 September 2021,  many employees are returning to work. If they have been out for some time, it's likely they will need training to refresh their memory on the finer details of their tasks - some may have been out of the business for 19 months. There may also be health and safety implications, due to the increased number of people in the area, and you will have to adapt covid-safe working practices to accommodate this.

Some employers are faced with too many staff and not enough work, and with no government funding available, they will have to consider their options carefully. With the Christmas rush approaching, taking permanent steps, like redundancy, may not be appealing, but there are temporary measures that could be used instead.

Firstly, there is lay off and short time working, where employees either don’t work at all or their hours are reduced temporarily. Many employers already have a term for this in their contractual documentation, but if not, it would have to be agreed. Statutory guarantee pay should be paid for days of lay-off. Otherwise, the employee should receive full pay if they’re asked not to work.

Alternatively, you might want to consider those employees who have accumulated a lot of holiday, as this could be a good time for them to take it. Alternatively, a career break or sabbatical, with explicitly agreed terms, might do the trick.

Another option is redeployment. You could move employees to a different role, temporarily, or permanently. Organisations will need to give reasonable notice of this if there is a relevant contractual clause, or get agreement, and both employee and employer need to decide if the new role is right for the employee. For technical roles, there may be training needs, so organisations will have to decide if it is cost effective for employees to be multi-disciplined.

You may decide to make changes to terms and conditions, such as reducing pay or benefits. This can have a significant impact, so you’ll need to consult, meeting with employees (or representatives, depending on numbers) and discussing the changes. Explaining your circumstances may encourage agreement. If employees see it’s this or redundancy, they may be more likely to agree.

If this is not enough, organisations may need to start a meaningful consultation process, possibly with representatives, meeting with staff, and discussing the proposals.

Perhaps the most important element of the next stage for organisations, whatever form that may take, is employee wellbeing. Furlough may have come with feelings of uncertainty, insecurity and confusion for many. Organisations must acknowledge this and ensure there are measures in place to support employees during their return to work, further temporary lay off or, where appropriate, the redundancy process. Although furlough is coming to an end, Covid-19 remains and the legacy of the last 19 months may live on for some time.