The end of the furlough scheme – What happens next?

The end of the furlough scheme – What happens next?

 

As so many of us are aware the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), commonly known as Furlough will end on 30 September 2021, this was announced in the March 2021 budget.  Continuing in September, the government’s contribution will remain at the reduced level of 60% with employers making up salary payments to make up the 80% of their Employee plus pension and NI. Employers can if they wish top Employee payments up to 100%.

As of July 2021, just under 2 million Employees were reported to be remaining on furlough, this is in comparison to data from January 2021 suggesting that over 5 million were reportedly on the CJRS Scheme.

Many Employees remain on furlough, inevitably they need to return, or indeed business owners need to review their business operations, plan to consult, or have started to do so already depending on the size of their teams; businesses also need to consider and communicate future working arrangements and safe working environments.

In our latest news, we take a look at what the end of furlough looks like and what the implications could be in HR in your business.

 

What does the end of the Furlough Scheme mean for you and your business?

Business owners will now need to start thinking about what will happen to those employees who are still remaining on the Scheme. In your business, this may be a feasible option, but for some, it may not, as of 30 September, 2021 Employee wages will not be topped up any longer by the Government.

Planning, restructuring, communication, assessing risks, and consent will be crucial when considering the next steps.

 

Bringing an end to an Employees Furlough leave?

As an Employer, you will need to consider when and how to end an Employee’s furlough leave. With one month left to act then the decisions, you make need to be planned out bearing in mind the needs of your business.

The way in which you communicate with your Employee needs to be considered and you need to bring this to an end with them effectively.

Here are just 10 considerations for Business owners:

  1. Who will be brought back from furlough?
  2. How will you communicate with your Employees?
  3. Do your Employees have annual leave to take?
  4. Do you have plans to restructure (or have instigated this already)?
  5. How will you gain consent for any changes to terms and conditions of employment?
  6. Will you take a Hybrid approach to working?
  7. Have you considered working patterns, rest periods, rotas, etc?
  8. Have you updated your Covid-Secure risk assessment?
  9. Do you have a plan to manage health and wellbeing, including mental health?
  10. Have you considered the financial implications of PAYE costs of the scheme ending?

 

Who will you bring back and how to communicate with your Employees

The all-important question of who to bring back will be wholly dependant on your business operations, where you are in a position to bring all Employees back then you should do so, however you may not be in a position to do this, we take a look at more options for restructuring and changing terms and conditions later.

When you placed your Employee on the scheme you should have gained their consent in writing, similarly, to end furlough you should provide your Employee with notice in writing, there is no minimum notice, but you should:

  • Discuss with your Employee about any plans to end furlough as early as possible;
  • encourage your Employee to raise any concerns or problems about returning to work.

We have found that Employers that have been open, transparent, and kept their Employees informed during Covid have integrated their Employees back to work with ease. It is worth noting that for so many the feelings and emotions during the pandemic have been extremely difficult for individuals, the feelings of anxiety, stress, and isolation may be impacting their return, we would urge Employers to communicate as soon as possible.

 

Can I enforce or request an Employee takes Annual Leave?

It is safe to say that some of your furloughed Employees may have accrued annual leave during their time away from the workplace, many Employers have invoked leave during this time but you may find that you have Employees with untaken unpaid annual leave during Covid prior to their return, in this instance, you can providing you provide your Employee with the relevant notice period which is double the amount of time, for example, if you wish them to take one week leave you must provide 2 weeks’ notice. then you can invoke annual leave.

You may find this assists with staffing levels at the beginning, may assist hesitant returners and ultimately where you are struggling may delay their return to work for a short time.

 

The important question of Restructuring and Redundancies?

There is undoubtedly the question that many Employers will not be able to bring all or any of their Employees back to the workplace, this is such a shame, but one which Employers are now facing. The Office for National Statistics recently reported that the rate of redundancies recorded since the beginning of the pandemic exceeds the highest rate reached during the 2008 – 2009 financial crisis, a stark reminder of the impact of the pandemic on businesses across the UK.

How restructures and redundancies are handled by a business are of paramount importance, this cannot be stressed enough, this is a formal redundancy process and must be followed by all Employers.

As an Employer, you must ensure a fair and reasonable process is undertaken and followed. You should carefully consider your individual business case and where you need to make reductions, this is the planning stage.  Employees should be provisionally selected on a fair and impartial basis, scored against objective criteria.  A minimum consultation period of 30 days is required if making 20 or more redundant and 45 days if making 100 or more redundant.  It is crucial to remember that you cannot claim furlough grant for any redundancy notice period.

We urge all Employers prior to embarking on any redundancy process to seek professional advice by contacting a member of our HR and Employment Law team, this is to alleviate the risk of claims being brought against you and your Business.

 

Can I change, and or vary the Terms and Conditions of Employment of an Employee/s?

It may be that you are considering new ways of working, reduced opening hours, a complete overhaul in your operation, or you are considering reducing salary payments. Some of these changes may be temporary or permanent in any of these situations these would be considered a ‘Change to Terms and Conditions of Employment’ of an Employee/s, to gain this you would need agreement/consent from your Employee/s, a consultation should take place prior to any consent.

We urge all Employers prior to embarking on any changes to Employment terms to seek professional advice by contacting a member of our HR and Employment Law team, this is to alleviate the risk of claims being brought against you and your Business.

 

Will you or are you taking the Hybrid WFH approach to working?

We have heard the words new ways of working, and working from home did become the ‘norm’, it may be still popular for some, with Homeworking (WFH) still very popular amongst many, but we now hear more and more about the hybrid approach, this may be something you are/have adopted in your Business, it is worth noting that an amendment to individual terms may be necessary, and considerations to how this will work in practice, this refers to both WFH and Hybrid models.

It is also important to remember that not all Employees can take on the hybrid or WFH approach due to their role, you then need to consider how this is communicated, many Employers are now taking steps to reduce salary payments in line with homeworking in line with this to offset.

As with all of our advice we suggest you consult with your Employee, this would be the first step, to discuss the practicalities, how the WHF or Hybrid Method would work, any health and safety implications, the structure, workload, communication, and would you be proposing any reduction in salary payments – leading to a change to terms and conditions. Once consent is sought you must then agree in writing and any variation must be confirmed and agreed.

It may be at this time you receive Flexible working requests, this is a statutory right for your Employees, as an Employer you should have a process and procedure in place to manage any applications.

Where a flexible working application is made, it should be considered following your internal HR policy and procedure, you should meet with your Employee to discuss their application prior to any decision is made, bearing in mind requests can only be refused on one of eight specific reasons, your Employee also has the right to appeal against your decision.

We urge all Employers prior to embarking on any changes to Employment terms to seek professional advice by contacting a member of our HR and Employment Law team, this is to alleviate the risk of claims being brought against you and your Business.

 

Should you update your Covid Risk Assessment and your Health & Safety?

As an Employer you have a duty of care towards Employees, this means you need to provide a safe place of work.  We do know that restrictions have been lifted but it may be prudent to continue some of your best practice and the measures you have/had in place, you may also find that some, or all of these may be necessary, depending on your business or an Employees medical needs.

As you will be aware by keeping your risk assessment updated you are ensuring you have taken the relevant steps to make your business Covid secure.  You have an obligation to make your risk assessment and safety measures accessible to your entire team.

We would urge you to listen to any Health & Safety concerns raised by Employees, you should take these onboard and act upon them. Remember any less favorable treatment or dismissal as a result of raising Health & Safety issues are likely to give rise to a claim.

 

As with many Employment-related matters over the last 18+ months the issue of the Vaccine has been widely publicised. We advise with extreme caution if you are considering enforcing the regular, free Covid Tests.  At the current time, there is no case yet to decide whether the “no jab, no job” rule would be reasonable.  The fairness or otherwise of compulsory vaccinations (outside of care settings that commences in November 2021) will be based on facts.

You should also take into consideration those that cannot have the vaccine for reasons relating to belief, religion, or disability. Employers who do make the vaccine a requirement will be likely to find themselves involved in a test case in an Employment Tribunal.

 

We are Here to Help

If you have any further questions about any of the topics detailed in this latest news, or any other HR, and or Employment Law matter do not hesitate to get in contact with us – our phone lines are open 24/7 and we would be more than happy to help.

We are here to provide full advice, support, and guidance, you can contact a member of our team on 0333 006 9489 or [email protected]

 

Author: Fran Crossland 

30 August 2021

 

 

 

Disclaimer

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