Recalling Staff Back to Work after Furlough

Some businesses are now starting to plan and prepare for the recalling of staff back to work after furlough; especially after the Government is now drafting its roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions.

Just as there were considerations about who and how to furlough, there will be considerations about ‘unfurloughing’ (if such a word exists!).

There is no doubt going to be resistance. This may be due to staff feeling nervous to return due to catching coronavirus, staff with ongoing caring responsibilities – especially if schools do not return, and staff who are just enjoying their furlough break on 80% of their pay.

Unfurloughing is a new concept with no helpful manual that I know of. In essence, the process of unfurloughing is essentially the reverse of laying people off and so the principles should be the same.

Employers may need to recall staff back to work in different ways: they may reopen a site fully trading and bring everyone back at once, they may reopen for partial trading and unfurlough gradually, which may require a bit more planning, they may unfurlough but allow staff to work from home or the Government’s Job Retention Scheme has ended.

What criteria can you use to select staff for recall back to work

If you decide to recall staff back to work gradually, you will need to consider how to select who you bring back first. This is in effect the opposite process to how you decided who to furlough in the first place.

Your basis for selection could be made on the following criteria:

• Role or skills-based selection – you may select staff based upon their roles and/or their skills. This will be the roles and/or skills that are needed back in the business initially to get the business up and running again and to deal with the work or orders coming in.
• Furloughed for less than 3 week – you may decide not to select those that have been furloughed for less than 3 weeks so you can claim the job retention scheme grant.
• First furloughed – First Back – you may choose to apply a ‘first on furlough – first back at work’ principle’ (similar to ‘last in – first out’ (LIFO) principle used in redundancy selection).
• Ask for volunteers – you can consider this where you need a certain number of staff back at work, but you do not mind who returns. Where you have too many, you could select by names in a hat.

Have a clear plan and communicate it

Whatever method you use to recall staff back to work after furlough, it is important that you have a plan and communicate it well.

Ensure you avoid any decision that could be based on discrimination, for example all males stay on furlough, all females return.

The actual process of recalling staff from furlough

It is likely that your Furlough agreement set out that the employer shall end furlough on the earliest of certain events. This could be, for example, the ending of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (currently set for end of June 2020) or it may be due to work or orders starting to come in.

Contact the individuals you wish to recall to work (which could be all staff) and advise them that with effect from a *given date* they will be taken off furlough and are required to return to work. There is no set amount of notice that needs to be given – I would recommend reasonable notice is given, for example 48 hours. I would advise you then confirm their return to work in writing, setting out the arrangements for their return.

Be prepared to respond to queries and challenges from staff, such as ‘why me’ (if they have been selected) or ‘why not me’ (if they have not been selected). Staff may challenge that they cannot return due to:
• caring responsibilities, e.g. a child at home with no-one else to look after them and no ability to place the child into school/nursery,
• the worker has a letter from the NHS requiring them to shield for 12 weeks
• they are shielding with someone else due to ill health.
• the worker has symptoms and is isolating in accordance with guidance.

Ask staff to submit in writing why they feel they cannot return to work. Take a view on each individual submission.

Remember it is at the employer’s discretion who they furlough in the first place and similarly who they recall back to work.

Explore with them why they are unwilling or unable to return, what are their issues and how can you help.

Reassuring reluctant returners

Some workers may simply be scared to leave their home and return to the workplace. It is important for employers to take the necessary measures to reassure workers that it is safe to return. This will include (for example) at least some of the following (subject to current gov uk guidance):

• Introduce temperature checks for workers arriving for work (this cannot be forced upon workers, but most will want to comply)
• Ensure social distancing – spacing workstations and angling these away from each other where possible
• Fixing screens to workstations
• Providing PPE – masks and personal screens if roles have inevitable social contact
• Providing additional breaks for handwashing
• Providing handwashing and sanitation stations
• Organising additional cleaning of surfaces, door handles etc.

What if they just refuse to return?

You may face a scenario where despite your best efforts to reassure workers, they simply will refuse to return to work. They may even not respond to your communication, such as phone calls or messages (or however you have agreed to keep in touch during furlough).

Without good reason to refuse, this will leave you in a difficult position of having to decide on whether to force the worker to return under threat of disciplinary action or whether to relent and leave them on furlough (whilst it exists), perhaps risking an outcry from other reluctant but complicit staff.

Consider how reasonable (or difficult) staff have been, what steps you have taken as the employer, is the staff member absent without authorisation (AWOL) or are they genuinely sick. Remember that staff are protected under Health and Safety Regulations and any report could be taken as Whistleblowing under the Regulations.

What are your options if staff do not return to work?

Whilst the furlough scheme is still in existence and the individual meets the criteria, you can of course continue to furlough them.

However, once the scheme ends and the individual is still unable/unwilling to return or if they refuse without justified reasons, what can you do?

Essentially, your options are to allow them to take paid leave out of their holiday entitlement, allow them to take unpaid leave or make them redundant.

If Hill HR can help with any of your furlough queries, please contact us #furlough #unfurlough #jobretentionscheme