With the end of the government making payments towards furlough terminating at the end of September 2021 it is important for businesses to make preparation for the end of furlough. Employers have the options of allowing employees to return to work on the same or different employment terms or making them redundant.
With returning to work there may be several options available. Many businesses have already begun to operate hybrid working which is a combination of office and home working. This is a practice which began during the lockdown period. This may, of course, only apply to businesses that do not require staff to be on site during working hours or businesses which have got rid of offices during the pandemic to save on costs. When considering hybrid working the business needs to be clear about this offering – such as specifying when staff can work at home or need to be in the office ranging from one to four days as applicable.
Issues such as flexi working, performance management and health and safety all need to be considered. Some employees may be struggling due to the lack of structure caused by enforced home working as after all for some it may take some getting used to. These employees may miss the physical presence of their work colleagues so finding ways to overcome this and encourage motivation is really important. Video conferencing software may allow a suitable alternative to have team or 1:1 meetings. Indeed this can help with performance management processes so that a manager and an employee may have meetings as though both were working in the office environment.
It is important to have a well communicated hybrid working policy in place and ensure that issues such as health and safety and performance management are incorporated. The hybrid working policy should outline how things will work such as how to request hybrid working and the procedure, the use of equipment, support and training. The policy should set limits as hybrid working may not be suitable for all roles. ACAS has produced some useful information on hybrid working https://www.acas.org.uk/hybrid-working
Changes to the employee’s employment contract will be needed should hybrid working be agreed.
For those businesses that have continued to furlough staff it is important to have a return to work plan in place with good communication at the heart of this. Staff need to be given written notice with clear instructions as to what will happen with pay and working arrangements. Employers should be prepared to discuss concerns which may be about more than just mental health and well being and ensure that staff can provide proof of a negative COVID test to ensure they are safe to return. It may be necessary to promote the importance of health and safety and any changes to the business. To avoid the unnecessary build up accrued annual leave and associated work cover many employers should have ensured furloughed staff have taken their entitlement If not employees are only entitled to carry over twenty days leave from a previous annual leave year.
Mental health and wellbeing are important so businesses need to consider how they will support employees. Some employees may struggle to return to work. Initiatives such as implementing an Employee Assistance Programme which incorporates a counselling helpline as well as having an occupational health advisor to consult with regarding any sickness absence and disability issues can help. Line managers are also key to offering support and should be aware of this responsibility.
For some employees there may be a requirement to consider reduced working hours at the end of furlough. This would require consultation and agreement.
For businesses unable to offer any work as the end of furlough approaches will have to consider a redundancy process following the due legal procedure.