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Coronavirus: The end of furlough and the return to work

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United Kingdom

As the UK approaches its sixth week of lockdown, it's important that business leaders look ahead to when the UK Government brings the country gradually out of lockdown and how to prepare your business for this. Below we have created a short guide on some of the main issues businesses need to consider.

1 – Business planning

Businesses need to start planning for the lockdown to ease and for day-to-day operations to begin to return to normal. In due course, as the situation stabilises, this is likely to bring with it the closure of the Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Issues to bear in mind during this period include:

  • Will you be able to reintegrate all furloughed employees back into the business on full pay immediately, or some only?
  • If you do not have enough work to bring back all furloughed employees immediately, are you able to keep those you cannot bring back on payroll temporarily, or will you need to make redundancies?
  • Have you developed a selection process to determine who returns from furlough (or returns first, if you adopt a staggered return) that is not discriminatory or unfair?
  • What process will you follow to bring employees back from furlough? 
  • What is your contingency plan if employees refuse to return from a period of furlough (particularly where they cite health and safety concerns)? How will you deal with "shielders"?
  • Do you need to review annual leave entitlements, pay, bonus or benefit structures going forward?

 

2 – Health and safety

Large portions of the workforce returning to work will bring health and safety concerns that businesses will need to consider and adapt to:

  • Will you be using invasive testing (e.g. temperature checks or anti-body testing) on your employees? What steps will you take in the event you uncover concerning results? Have you worked through the data protection implications?
  • Have you considered the need for Personal Protection Equipment, amendments to the layout of your office or the staggered return of your workforce?
  • Are you planning to take advantage of the NHS tracking App and will you require your employees to download it to their personal or work devices? Have you worked through the data protection implications?
  • Have you considered your position under your employer's liability insurance and how this may be affected by the return to normal in-office or on-site functions?

 

3 – Redundancies

Following the end of the Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the roll-back of other business support measures, businesses may need to consider making redundancies, in this regard considerations include:

  • Do you need to make largescale redundancies (20 or more)?
  • Have you thought through your collective consultation obligations and the logistics of carrying out a collective consultation exercise with a part-furloughed workforce?
  • Have you notified the Secretary of State of the need to make largescale redundancies? (Failure to do so is a criminal offence)
  • In either a collective or an individual exercise, how will you negotiate the issue of employee consultation remotely?
  • How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected your process and selection criteria?
  • Will directors need to consider engaging external specialist support to ensure they meet their statutory obligations, particularly with respect to avoiding any allegation of wrongful trading?

If you have any queries or would like to discuss any matters raised in this note, please contact Ranjit Dhindsa – Head of EPIC UK (Ranjit.Dhindsa@fieldfisher.com

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Areas of Expertise

Employment