Although the Government recently confirmed that the furlough scheme will be in place until October to help financially support businesses that have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses are starting to prepare to re-open now that the UK are easing out of lockdown.
Many restaurants and food places have already put collection-only or delivery systems in place, schools are being encouraged to open their doors as of next week and from the 15th of June, all non-essential retailers will be allowed to re-open.
This means that, if you have furloughed any employees over the last couple of months due to closures or a reduced capacity, you may need to consider bringing some of these workers back if you are able to resume business in the next few weeks.
Here are some things that you will need to consider before bringing employee’s back from furlough:
Employees must be furloughed for at least three weeks
One of the requirements for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is that the furlough period must be for a minimum of at least three weeks, but it can last for as long as the scheme is available.
Therefore, if a furloughed worker has only been on the scheme for a week, then you cannot claim 80% of their wage through the scheme until they have been on furlough for a further two weeks.
If you do choose to end their furlough early, then you will need to cover the cost yourself.
However, the Government are looking into potential schemes that could allow workers to be furloughed on a part-time basis which way be more advantageous to your business at this time.
Is your furloughed worker able to return to work?
Though you and your business may be ready to welcome back your furloughed workers, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it possible for the worker to do so.
There are still many restrictions and issues caused by COVID-19 that will make it difficult for a lot of workers to return to their workplace as normal.
For example, schools are slowly re-opening but many parents are apprehensive about sending their child back, especially if they live with someone in a high-risk group.
If this is the case, and they are not able to work from home, then you should switch the employee from a furloughed worker to dependent care leave which is unpaid.
Then there are those workers that still must shield, following guidance from the Government, because they belong to a vulnerable group.
It is highly likely that anyone who falls within these groups will be encouraged to stay home and limit their outdoor activity for the foreseeable future, possibly even until there is a vaccine, for their own safety.
For the above cases, allowing your employees to continue to work from home, where possible, may be the best option – especially if it has worked for your business thus far.
Otherwise, those shielding may have to remain on the furlough scheme until it is safe and reasonable for them to return to the workplace, and parents who have children or dependents to care for may need to be switched to dependent care leave.
There is also the question about those employees who don’t feel comfortable about coming back into the workplace.
The best thing you can do is reassure them that you have taken every step to make the workplace COVID-19 secure by conducting a comprehensive risk assessment.
You could also consider allowing them to work from home on a permanent basis, or you could try slowly transitioning workers back into the workplace with a part-time agreement.
Furloughed workers should be given reasonable notice
Re-opening your business cannot be a last-minute decision as there will be a lot of preparation that needs to go into it, such as conducting a risk assessment, implementing one-way systems, communicating the 2-metre distance rule and possibly even changing the design/layout of the space to comply with social distancing measures.
This will also give you time to prepare your workers for their return to the workplace.
There is no legal minimum length of notice required to be given; however, you may have set this out in your written agreement with furloughed workers and, if so, you will need to stick to this and provide them with that notice period.
If you have not confirmed a length of notice with your furloughed worker(s), you should make every effort to provide them with a reasonable notice period as calling them at 4pm on Wednesday and asking them to return to work at 9am the following morning is not entirely practical, especially if they have children or are a carer.
Even if your furloughed worker(s) will be working from home upon their return, you should still give them reasonable notice as they may have other responsibilities that they need to make arrangements for.
Keep an audit trail of furloughed workers
Just as you had to provide written confirmation of any changes to employee status, i.e. being switched from an employee to a furloughed worker, we would advise that you write a letter or email to your furloughed worker(s) to confirm any verbal arrangements in regards to bringing them back to work.
This will provide you with a full audit trail of the process should you need it for future reference or to support your claim.
Ensure the workplace is COVID-19 secure
The most important thing you can do for all your workers is ensure that your workplace is COVID-19 secure and that this has been clearly communicated with them before they return.
You will need to observe the Government guidance and advice from health officials as to what workplaces within each sector should do to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak on the premises.
The basic steps that all industries must take include social distancing on site following the 2-metre rule, limiting the number of people in one area at one time, practicing good personal hygiene, implementing one-way systems where possible, wearing appropriate PPE if necessary and staggering start/finish times.
Preparing your workplace for re-opening is something that we can assist you with!
Our COVID-19 Secure Package has everything your business needs to make sure that it is safe and doing all that it can to protect workers from the spread of the virus. This includes a Covid-19 risk assessment and policy, a guidance document, signs and a COVID-19 online training course.
Furthermore, your workers will need to be made aware of any changes to procedures or policies, such as staggered lunch breaks, closure of any communal areas, one-way systems or new seating arrangements, and they should be given the opportunity to raise any questions or concerns.
As we continue to slowly ease out of lockdown and adapt to a new way of living amidst this deadly virus, we are on hand to provide you with any support or advice that you need during these uncertain times.
Our HR Consultants can answer any questions you may have about furloughed workers and write up any letters or documents that you may require whilst our Health and Safety Consultants can visit your site and conduct a thorough COVID-19 risk assessment to make sure you are up to safety standards before your re-open.
If you would like to learn more about how we can help your business and the different packages available, then please call us on 0845 2626 260 or email us at [email protected]