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Returning from furlough

Published: 18/08/2020 By Michelle Tompson

Bringing your employees back from furlough is not a straightforward process.

As furloughed employees begin to return to work, business owners and managers need to consider both the practical and emotional aspects of returning to “normal”. 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.

Managers need to talk to their team members before they return to work to understand their personal situation and to allay any concerns. The key to successfully returning furloughed employees to work is listening to them and communicating with them.

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 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 www.acas.org.uk  

Returning to work after furlough is going to be a sensitive time for everyone involved. Employees are likely to be nervous but if managers take the right steps and communicate regularly with their teams, things should go smoothly.