Returning From Furlough

The process of bringing employees back to the office from furlough will not be straightforward. In this blog, we discuss the challenges that this process will bring and the possible solutions.

Business owners and managers will need to consider the practical and emotional aspects of returning to ‘normal’, as furloughed employees begin to return to work. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been unprecedented. After several weeks of lockdown and social distancing, some employees may be fearful of commuting or sharing an office space with other people. Others may be living with a vulnerable or high-risk individual.

There needs to be communication between managers and their team members before they return to work to understand their personal situation and to alleviate any concerns.

Action plans should be put in place before furloughed employees return to work. Employees should be engaged and the management team should involve them in creating plans to get everyone back up and running in the new normal. Return to work plans should include practical aspects such as how social distancing can continue to be observed as well as logistical and operational requirements.

Employers should also check any agreements they have with trade unions or employee representatives, to see if they need to enter into any formal consultation.

In some cases, employees may not want to return to work because they are worried about catching Coronavirus, or perhaps they have issues around childcare, etc. If this happens, take the time to listen to the concerns of the particular employee(s) and take reasonable steps such as offering flexible working arrangements or agreeing on some temporary leave if the individual(s) are unable to work for a period of time.

If the employee(s) still do not want to go back to work, they may be able to take some time off as holiday or unpaid leave, although the employer doesn’t have to agree to this. Guidance on how to manage this type of situation is freely available on the ACAS website here.

Over the next few weeks and months, returning to work after furlough will be sensitive for everyone involved. Team members are likely to be anxious and nervous but if the right steps are taken by managers, and communication is done regularly with teams, things will go as smoothly as planned.

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