HR BLOG: Are you thinking about bringing employees back from furlough?

After a winter like no other, the government’s recent announcement of a cautious and phased route out of lockdown will have provided some relief to business owners. Many will be eager to make plans for the year ahead.

An integral part of the plan laid out a timeline for the reopening of schools. This will have been exceptionally welcome news to many working parents who have been homeschooling during this time.

The re-opening of schools will mean that working parents who had been furloughed for childcare reasons should be able to return to work from Monday, March .

The announcement also gave hope for a spring re-opening for certain businesses that have had to stay closed this winter, such as non-essential retail and hospitality. These employers will need to start thinking about staffing levels which may also involve bringing employees back from furlough.

It has been almost a year since the furlough scheme was first introduced, and a very tumultuous year at that. For businesses and their employees to be able to return to work effectively, there is much to be considered when bringing employees back from furlough.

The first decision will be deciding if you have sufficient work for those returning because they were unable to work from home or your business was shut. If not then you will be able to continue to furlough them until the scheme ends in September. If you are considering reducing the workforce do remember that to select those with childcare responsibilities would be discriminatory and result in an expensive tribunal claim.

Start plans now to bring employees back from furlough

It’s a good idea to start planning your return from furlough process now to ensure a smooth transition. This is because you may find that you need to make some important changes prior to the return of employees.

We recommend running through the following questions to be best prepared.

Do you have an up-to-date COVID Secure risk assessment for your workplace? Not only is this vital protection for your business, but when communicated well, it can also help to reassure employees who may feel nervous about returning to the workplace.

Have core business operations permanently changed because of coronavirus? If you have made major changes during the pandemic you may need to revisit certain job roles and the distribution of work. You may need to consult staff about these.

Who are you going to bring back to work and when? If you can, a phased return may be easier to manage. This way you can run several return-to-work induction sessions and make improvements if needed.

What should be included in a return-to-work induction? Employees will need to be brought up to speed with any changes that have been made to your business or processes in their absence. This may include, for example, new health and safety guidance or how to operate day-to-day in the post-lockdown workplace.

If employees need to be integrated back into teams with those who haven’t been furloughed, think about the dynamics and how you can get team members on the same page.

A return-to-work induction presents a good opportunity to lift spirits and focus on the positives such as being on the road to recovery. Colleagues may be pleased to finally see one another in person, but understandably may also feel apprehensive about the changed workplace.

Additional considerations for the return to work

Have you thought about how you will manage holiday requests? You may see an influx if international travel restrictions are lifted. Make sure your policy is clear on holidays and that you’ll be adequately staffed.

Those who have been able to work from home may decide they want to continue, at least in part. So be prepared for flexible working requests. Do get advice as there is a legal process to follow.

Although busy working parents are likely to be pleased about getting some much-needed time back and a return to 100% of their pay, they may also feel nervous about returning to the workplace.

Then there’s the chance that schools need to close again, posing a new and sudden childcare issue. Be prepared for the need for time off for a dependant should this happen.

The pandemic has impacted both mental and physical health. In addition to listening to employees about their experience, well-being support, such as an Employee Assistance Programme is a reliable and cost-effective solution which can help your team during this unusual road to recovery.

If you have questions about bringing employees back from furlough, please do contact us.