The end is nigh!
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, otherwise known as the furlough scheme, and all Government contributions are due to end on 30 September 2021. Some employers will be in a position to welcome back staff to their previous roles and be able to pay 100% of their wages once again. Unfortunately, other organisations will not have financially recovered enough to be able to do so.
Employers will be considering how they will manage employees and whether they may need to restructure their staffing requirements to fit with the new economic environment.
Integration back into the workplace and flexible working
Employers will need to consider how best to integrate staff who have been on furlough leave back into the workplace, some of whom may be anxious about a return after such a long period. Employers could consider conducting a COVID-19 risk assessment and inform employees of any measures put in place to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infections in the workplace. Doing this will hopefully go a long way to allaying any concerns furloughed staff have about returning.
Many employers have put in place flexible, or hybrid working schemes to meet the aspirations of employees towards maintaining some of the flexibility they have enjoyed during the pandemic but if not, employees on furlough leave will have the right to make a request for flexible working under the statutory scheme provided they are eligible by being continuously employed for 26 weeks or more.
Changes to terms and conditions of employment
It may be necessary for employers to consider whether cost cutting measures are still required after the furlough scheme ends.
If employers need to consider a permanent or temporary change to terms and conditions of employment, such as a reduction in pay, any changes to employees' terms and conditions of employment will require employee agreement and will need a period of consultation . Advice should be taken if such action is being considered.
Many employers will have left employees on furlough leave in the hope that activities will have picked up by September and they can avoid making redundancies. Unfortunately, the reality will be for many employers that there is still a reduced need for staff, a reorganisation of skill sets or worse case a need to close workplaces or business altogether, and that redundancies will become a necessity. Any redundancy must be genuine and fair, with due process followed and advice should be taken if such action is being considered. This applies to both furloughed staff and working staff.
Alternatives to redundancies should always be considered even if not appropriate and may include:
• Could your organisation institute a hiring freeze?
• Could you redeploy staff from one area of the business to another?
• Could you delay wage increases?
• Could you look at a agreeing a temporary percentage reduction in pay and/or hours across with your workforce (ensuring, for employees on low pay, that rates do not fall below the National Minimum Wage)?
Please do not hesitate to contact the employment team at Rollits if you are considering taking any of the above action or if you are being subjected to any such action and have concerns with the fairness of the procedure being followed.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.