The announcement of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme on 20 March 2020 was welcomed by many small businesses as a way of securing jobs during the pandemic. As the UK emerges from lockdown and starts to get back to business safely, employers need to effectively manage the return of employees from furlough leave.
If your small business has never dealt with furlough leave before, it’s important to follow the right processes to reintroduce an employee back into the workplace, so that you remain legally compliant.
We’ll walk you through what you need to consider when bringing your employees back from furlough leave, including notice periods and part-time furlough.
What notice period do I need to give furloughed employees?
Your employees should be available to return at any time, but you should give reasonable notice about returning to work where possible. Making a phone call means you can be confident that your employee is aware of the requirement to return to work. This also gives you the opportunity to address any difficulties or issues they may have, and how these can be addressed, including employee wellbeing. For example, they may have childcare commitments or health concerns.
You should confirm by letter the requirement to return to work and that furlough is coming to an end. This can also be via email where employees have access. FSB members have access to a template furlough letter (Notification of end of furlough and request to return to normal working arrangements) through the FSB Legal Hub. It should advise employees that they may be placed back on furlough after returning, should the business circumstances require it.
How do I choose which employees to bring back from furlough leave?
As you’re assessing how to operate your business post-lockdown, it’s likely that managing your cashflow, implementing social distancing measures and changes to business practices will impact your returning staff.
Whether you’re only choosing to open certain departments, or need to operate on a reduced workforce, be sure to follow guidance to reduce the risk of any claims against you.
Taking staff off furlough follows the same process you went through in determining who to place on furlough. You can determine who should return to work based on your business needs, provided that the criteria applied is not discriminatory.
When you’re deciding the criteria for which employees should return to work, this needs to be made fairly to reduce the risk of any constructive dismissal claims, and to ensure the process is non-discriminatory.
As more work becomes available, you may require employees with different skills or roles to return from furlough, and so you can gradually ask employees to return from furlough as needed.
Can furloughed employees return on a part-time basis?
On 29 May 2020, the Government revealed how it planned to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until the end of October 2020 and introduce flexible furlough to ease the pressure on employers. Employers will gradually be required to pay contributions to furloughed workers wages, pensions and national insurance, until the end of the scheme.
From 1 July 2020, furloughed staff can return on a part-time basis if this suits your business needs. There is no minimum requirement for this in order to claim furloughed wages, but employers will be responsible for an employee’s full wages for the days they do work.
What should I do if a furloughed employee is considered at risk?
You may have furloughed employees who are at greater risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19. They can be asked to return on the basis, provided that they aren’t required to shield in accordance with public health advice. However, where they have a disability under the Equality Act 2010, then you have certain legal duties towards them, including making reasonable adjustments.
Upon returning to work, you should already have carried out a risk assessment to ensure your workplace is COVID-19 secure. A template Covid-19 risk assessment is available on the FSB Legal Hub. You may be required to carry out additional risk assessments to assess any risks to the health of vulnerable employees. In some cases, it’s advisable to seek occupational health or GP advice in relation to the employee, to assist you in assessing risks and identifying next steps.
If your business needs guidance during the furlough process, the FSB Legal Hub offers a comprehensive guide to furlough, as well as template letters and a 24/7 legal advice line to answer any questions about individual circumstances.