Coronavirus (COVID-19): furlough guide
This guide outlines the key facts you need to know about furlough
The UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) provided a lifeline for many employers and their employees throughout the pandemic, but now the scheme has ended on 30 September 2021, employers must plan how to manage returning furloughed staff and continue making their workplaces COVID secure.
In some cases, people may not have worked for several months and, in extreme cases, for almost a year. Others may have been ‘flexibly furloughed’ – working fewer than their contractual hours (for example 3 days rather than 5). This guide looks at some of the key issues that employers need to consider in managing the return to work for furloughed workers.
Most employers will have furloughed staff for one of three reasons:
Companies have kept in touch with furloughed staff in different ways and at different times. As you plan and manage their return it is important to keep staff up to date so that they can also prepare. Even though legally you do not have to give notice to staff to recall them to work, in practice it would be sensible to aim to give at least a week’s notice. Individuals may have made domestic arrangements (for example around childcare, or other caring responsibilities) which they will need to resolve before returning. You may also want to alert them to any changes they will immediately encounter in advance such as canteens no longer taking cash, restrictions on car-parking and so on.
If it is a requirement that individuals take a COVID test before returning, you need to ensure that they can do so (and if necessary enable them to access tests) in sufficient time before they return.
Communication isn’t one way so make sure you build in the opportunity for staff to raise questions or concerns before they are due to return.
If people have been away from work for a long period, you may want to hold a formal ‘reinduction’ before they restart work. How long or short this reinduction is will depend on individual business situations, but it should normally cover the following:
During the time staff have been on furlough there may have been significant changes to the business, which could have an impact on those returning. You may need to ensure returning staff are aware of:
Even with the best reinduction and training plan, there will still be support needed for returning staff. Some of this is covered in our returning to the workplace guide and FAQs, but there are a number of specific issues that may relate to furloughed workers.
Staff may have been required to class certain days as holiday while furloughed. However, if you did not do so, it is likely that many employees will return with a significant backlog of holiday entitlement. Under the Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, staff can carry forward up to 4 weeks leave for up to 2 years if it was not ‘reasonably practicable’ for them to take their holidays for a COVID-related reason. This will obviously require careful managing and planning to ensure that staff are able to take holidays they are entitled to.
Conflict with colleagues
There may well be issues between staff who have worked throughout the pandemic and those who are returning after furlough, based on misconceptions that furloughed staff have had a lengthy ‘holiday’ while those who have been working have kept the business running. While cases will need to be dealt with on their own facts and circumstances, it is important that matters are resolved in a supportive and constructive manner. Read our report on managing conflict for more information.
Vaccination and health concerns
The vaccine rollout in the UK continues to be very successful with many people receiving both doses. That said, individuals may be worried about returning to work if they are not yet vaccinated or if they are working with staff who have not been vaccinated. You also need to think about your company policy towards vaccination and be able to deal with any who are reluctant to be vaccinated, advised against being vaccinated, or opposed on principle. Read our guide on vaccination to find out more.
Staff who have been furloughed because of shielding requirements may have particular issues due to the nature of their own condition. In many cases such staff will be classed as disabled and so you may need to think about ‘reasonable adjustments’.
Staff may not have issues with returning to work but may have concerns over their need to commute. While public transport operators have taken specific steps to ensure safety of passengers, there may still be issues:
Staff were furloughed as a consequence of a business decision and could have been on a reduced income for an extended period. They may well have had little to do during lockdown and as a result may be suffering from a variety of mental health issues. It is important that businesses plan and prepare for this, including being able to deal with a range of mental health and wellbeing concerns.
For example, furloughed staff may be nervous about the possibility of returning to work, or may suffer from social anxiety at the prospect of having to interact and communicate with colleagues, having not done so for some time. Reassuring them in advance of their return is important and, as noted above, building in time for socialisation and informal non-work contact may be as vital as updating them on business issues. Assigning a colleague to act as a ‘buddy’ to a returning worker may be a good method of reintegration.
In other cases, staff may be suffering from financial problems which are causing them stress. If you have an Employee Assistance Programme, then ensure staff are aware of it. If you don’t, having information available about local charities who provide Debt Advice and other financial help will allow you to signpost staff to appropriate support.
Staff may have become more dependent on alcohol and it is worth reviewing the CIPD guide on managing drugs and alcohol at work on how you can deal with such situations. They may also feel a lack of confidence in the workplace as a result of weight gain. Such situations need to be considered sympathetically.
Returning to work after furlough will, for many employees, be similar to returning after a long period of sickness or unemployment and you may wish to adapt any existing procedures you have that deal with such situations, including Occupational Health support and making use of specialist mental health organisations.
Other than in the smallest company, managing returning staff directly will fall to line managers rather than HR staff. It may be sensible to hold a short briefing session with managers who will be responsible for staff who have been furloughed to cover some of the key areas highlighted in this guide. Important issues to cover will include:
It is important to remember that each of the UK nations (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) has slightly different rules and you need to be aware of them, particularly if you have staff who cross a boundary (for example live in Wales but work in England) or have sites in different countries. Employers should refer to the relevant rules and guidance for each nation and adapt their plans accordingly.
In planning a return for furloughed workers employers should aim to be flexible and understanding, taking into account the different types of support and communication which may be needed.
DISCLAIMER: The materials in this guidance are provided for general information purposes and do not constitute legal or other professional advice. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances may impact the accuracy and validity of the information. The CIPD is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for any action or decision taken as a result of using the guidance. You should consult a professional adviser for legal or other advice where appropriate.
This guide outlines the key facts you need to know about furlough
Answers to frequently asked questions around furlough leave
This guide will help you plan your ongoing return to the workplace as lockdown restrictions ease