From the 21st June, when all covid restrictions are due to be lifted, many workplaces will start to return to their usual way of working. One of the main challenges employers will face from this point forward will be bringing back any furloughed employees. In this guide, we’re going to be taking a look at how you can take your employees off furlough legally.
Do I Have to Take Employees Off Furlough?
No, not yet. Following a recent extension from the government, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme isn’t due to end until the end of September 2021, meaning you don’t actually need to take your employees off furlough just yet.
When Can I Bring My Employees Back to Work?
Although the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will continue until September, you are still able to bring back your employees from furlough whenever you wish, however, it’s important to note that in order to claim their wages under the scheme, employees will need to remain on furlough for a minimum of 3 weeks (21 days).
Employees should also be given a reasonable period of notice that they are required to work, ideally via phone so you can ensure they are aware and have a clear understanding of what is expected of them upon returning. We would also recommend confirming the arrangement via letter or email.
Do I Have to Bring Back My Employees Full Time?
No, before 30 September 2021, you can ask your employees to return to work on a part time basis through the Flexible Furlough Scheme. This allows businesses to bring back employees for any amount of time and any shift pattern whilst still keeping them furloughed on other days.
The employer is still required to pay employees in full for the hours they work, but the government will continue to fund 80% of wages for hours not worked from June up to a cap of £2,500, 70% in July with a cap of £2,187.50 and 60% in August and September up to a cap of £1,875.
During this time the employer must top up the wages by 10% up to £312.50 in July and 20% up to £625 in August and September. They can also choose to top up the wages above 80%, though this is optional.
What if My Employees are Reluctant to Return?
After a long period of time not working, your employees may have some nerves about returning to work. They may also still be worried about coming into the workplace if they live with a vulnerable family member. In these situations you should take your employees personal circumstances into account and come to a compromise that works for the both of you. For example, if your employees are able to work from home, you may wish to allow them to do so. They are still working but aren’t taking any risks by coming into the workplace. This may also be a suitable option for those who are anxious about working again after a long period of time off as it helps them to ease in a little better.
Similarly, flexible furlough is a great way to reintroduce your staff into the workplace at a more relaxed pace to allow them to settle in before returning full time.
I Can’t Afford to Keep All of My Employees When the Scheme Ends. What are My Options?
Unfortunately, when the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ends, there will be a number of businesses who cannot afford to keep all of their staff employed due to a loss of business and earnings as a result of the pandemic.
If you find yourself in this situation, you have a few options available to you. Making changes to your employees’ contracts may help you to reduce your overheads whilst keeping your staff employed. Some changes could include:
- Reducing working hours
- Reducing salaries
- Reviewing contractual schemes e.g. enhanced sick or maternity pay
- Introducing job-sharing
- Removing or reducing bonus and commission schemes
- Removing or reducing company benefits
- Remove overtime
Before making any changes to your employees’ contracts, you will need to seek their agreement first with an appropriate period of consultation.
It may also be beneficial to look at non-workforce related overheads e.g. supplier contracts to see if there is any room to make changes to help save money to afford to keep your staff on. Of course, the alternative option is redundancy, though we know this is likely the last resort for many businesses.
If you do need to make redundancies, you must follow the correct procedure. One important step is consultation with employees and allowing them to make alternative suggestions where possible. Where multiple redundancies need to be made, you should do so against objective criteria and avoid making any discriminatory decisions.
Employees who are made redundant are entitled to statutory redundancy pay if they have worked for the business for over two years.
When making redundancies it’s important to remember that this is a very stressful time for everyone involved and you should handle the situation with care and sensitivity. Communication is key and being open and honest with your staff will help to avoid any confusion and reassure them that you have done everything you can but that this is your only option.
Keeping morale high for other employees is also important in maintaining a productive and positive work environment. Find out how to keep morale high once employees return to the office.
Help with Human Resources
At Ryans, we understand the amount of pressure and stress on businesses at the moment which is why we offer a range of services to help you manage your human resources more effectively by assisting with:
- Developing effective remuneration programmes
- Introducing tax-efficient incentive and benefit schemes for key employees
- Conducting performance evaluations
- Targeting recruitment and training programmes
- Establishing employee policies, procedures, handbooks, etc
- Maintaining appropriate records
- Staying abreast of changes in the PAYE, and NIC regimes
- Understanding and applying employment law
- Ensuring employees are taken off furlough legally
- Redundancy advice