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The Furlough Scheme was part of our working lives for 18 months. It cost over £70 billion and was the centrepiece of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s intervention to stave off job losses as the country effectively closed down in the face of the virus. At its height it supported over 11.6 million people and when it ended on 30 September, there were still between 1 million and 1.6 million on either full, or partial, furlough.

Take responsibility

But with the scheme now at an end, businesses are forced to take full responsibility for their employees again. If you’ve had your staff on furlough, you may be feeling understandably concerned about reopening and confused about the best way to bring employees back whilst balancing the books. You might also be worried about job losses.

However, before businesses start to worry and consider redundancies, we need to remember that many businesses have already taken the time in recent months to plan ahead and think carefully about their future. This has led to periods of reorganisation or restructuring, together with active discussions/consultations with individuals about different ways of working including:

  • Pay reductions
  • Career breaks/compulsory sabbaticals
  • Using up annual leave
  • Changing hours – going part-time and/or embracing job share.
  • Changing working location (to save money on premises)

Plus, we must bear in mind that although having to make staff redundant is upsetting, the economy now has record levels of job vacancies and with plenty of skill shortages too in key industries retraining/reskilling is being actively offered, together with other incentives. This could mean that workers might be able to secure another job sooner than they thought.

Flexibility and encouragement

With furloughed employees being re-integrated back in the business, it’s essential that business owners and senior managers maintain covid-safe measures and new working practices to keep the workplace and employees safe. Offering people extra support, flexibility and encouragement is vital. Setting up regular one-to-ones will demonstrate your ability to listen and understand their needs, as well as learning how to manage their expectations in a positive way. After all, workplaces are a very different place than they were in March 2020 and workers have also got very different attitudes to work which will need to be accommodated.

Fair and balanced

If, however pay cuts, reduced hours and different working arrangements are not enough and redundancies are on the cards, it’s important to take the time to fully consult with staff and follow a fair and balanced process. This means clear communication, appropriate notices and meaningful consultation. It’s also important to be open, transparent and objective, with no bias, so staff feel informed and included.

How can we help?

Whatever route you choose, it’s important to listen to your HR team, or bring in additional specialists, especially when considering changing terms and conditions of employment or commencing a redundancy process. This will reduce the risk of claims being brought against you via an Employment Tribunal. Contact us at caroline.robertson@actifhr.co.uk for non-obligatory advice.