The end of Furlough – what now?
As most will be aware, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (Furlough) will end on 30 September 2021. Throughout August and September, the government’s contribution is reduced to 60% with employers making up salary to (at least) 80% plus pension and NI.
With that reduction, and the anticipated return to work, employers are advised to review their business needs and practices, update COVID risk assessments and consult with staff on the future working arrangements.
All employers have a duty of care towards employees to provide a safe place of work. Continuing with some measures may be necessary, depending on the particular business.
Employers should update their risk assessment and ensure they have taken steps to make their business Covid secure. The risk assessment and safety measures should be communicated to the workforce.
Any health and safety concerns raised by employees must be taken seriously. Any less favourable treatment or dismissal as a result of raising H&S issues are likely to give rise to a claim.
Employers might consider asking staff take the regular, free Covid Tests. 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) will be VERY fact specific. Employers also need to consider those that cannot have the vaccine for reasons relating to disability, region or belief. Any employer that makes the vaccine a requirement is likely to find themselves involved in a test case.
A number of businesses are allowing employees to continue to work from home permanently either fully or on a hybrid basis. However, many will need employees to return and can require them to return to their normal place of work in accordance with their contract.
Where employers are open to, or want to move to, permanent home working (either Hybrid basis or fully), the first step is to consult with staff. Reaching agreement may be straightforward where both parties are amenable. If employers are seeking a change in light of business need, changes to contract can only be made by agreement or consultation. Where a flexible working application is made, it should be considered in the usual way before a decision is made, bearing in mind requests can only be refused on one of eight specific reasons.
Where COVID has had such a negative impact on business that reductions in staff need to be considered, it is vital a fair and proper redundancy consultation is undertaken. Employers should consider carefully the business case and where they need to make reductions. 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. Employers cannot claim furlough grant for any redundancy notice period.
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