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Furlough at an end - what options do employers have?

View profile for Josh Fresle
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Now that the furlough scheme has come to an end some employers may be wondering what options are available to them. It is important that employers are honest and transparent with their employees on decisions taken in respect of their employment

According to a House of Commons report, as of 14 June 2021, 11.6 million employees were placed on the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which began on 1 March 2020 and recently ended on 30 September 2021.

Return to work

Many employees will have already returned to work now the furlough scheme has ended which means increasing numbers of employees will be returning to their place of work and some businesses may have already be working at full capacity.

Employers should be mindful that they remain under an obligation to ensure the health and safety of their workforce and customers. Employers should therefore take the time to update their risk assessments and be considerate of their employees' individual concerns and requirements. A business may find it beneficial to request that staff undergo lateral flow testing before attending their place of work or wear face coverings while in communal areas. They should however remain mindful that some people are unable to wear face coverings. In these cases, employers should respect and support the needs of each employee and make reasonable alternative adjustments to protect their health and safety.

Employees may also benefit from additional support mechanisms being put in place to assist with their mental health after being placed on furlough for such a long period, or being allowed a phased return.

ACAS have published guidance on processes that should be followed in respect of employees returning to work.

Redundancies

It is certain that many businesses may have to make employees redundant now that the furlough scheme ended, especially amongst sectors of business which have still not recovered from the impact of the virus.

It may be practical for some businesses to offer voluntary redundancies before implementing a compulsory redundancy procedure. Just because an employee volunteers for redundancy does not mean the employer must accept their application. If compulsory redundancies are necessary, employers should be careful to ensure they follow the correct procedure and do not discriminate against anyone. Employers should also be careful to ensure the redundancy selection criteria are fair. There is most likely no use in reviewing employees' performance over the past 12 months if some employees have been furloughed for that entire period.

Cost Reductions

Businesses who anticipate they will struggle to meet increasing staffing costs following the withdrawal of the furlough scheme, should consider whether they can come up with any creative solutions in order to retain their employees before resorting to redundancy.

Redeploying employees to existing vacancies, phased returns, flexible working and changes to an employee's terms and conditions of employment (amongst other things) could all be possible methods of reducing business costs and preventing redundancies. Employers should always consult with employees to discuss possible options and no changes should be made to an employee's terms and conditions of employment without their consent. Any changes that are made should be clearly set out.

If you require any advice on what steps your business can take, our employment team are on hand to assist.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.