Covid-19 has impacted many businesses across the UK and if you’re reading this then it’s likely yours was one of them. Since the government’s introduction of the Job Retention Scheme, an estimated 20% of workers across the UK have been furloughed. With the confirmation of the lockdown being extended until 7th May it’s likely that many of those workers will remain on Furlough until at least then. Nonetheless at some point, employers will face the challenge of bringing their workers back to work. Below are some important factors to consider when doing so.

1. Plan ahead

Firstly, it is vital for employers to plan ahead. For workers to be Furloughed there had to be a reduction in the work that was available. Consequently, the first thing to plan is how much work there will be in the initial stages of re-opening the business and therefore whether a phased return should be considered rather than the entire workforce returning at once. Furthermore, Furlough must be claimed in minimum blocks of 3 weeks so employers must therefore be careful not to ask employees to return to work within the 3 week block as they will then be unable to claim the money back for any of that period. When it has been decided how many employees are required to return and when, employers should consider which workers they want to bring back first and how they will do so.

2. Ask for volunteers

The best way to do this is to ask for volunteers. Having been in lockdown for over a month, some workers will undoubtedly feel anxious to return to work, particularly if the virus is still rife. Furthermore, many workers may have problems with childcare if the schools remain closed so would struggle to return at short notice. This being said, others will be bored of binging on Netflix series’ and be awaiting call from their employer with the go ahead to return. As such, let the workers decide if they are ready to return whilst there is still an option to do so.

This will involve great communication with the workforce, encouraging those that wish to return to inform the employer as soon as possible. In the correspondence to the workforce requesting volunteers, the selection criteria from which volunteers will be selected should be clearly defined. This may include specific job roles, shift patterns or the ability to get to work without relying on carpooling or public transport, as to support social distancing measures as far as possible.

3. Selecting the volunteers

Hopefully, more than enough workers will volunteer to return. It must then be decided which to select. In doing this, a fair and documented selection process to eliminate discrimination should be followed. Selection criteria may include clean employee records with good performance, time keeping and attendance as well as length of service. Reliable, hard-working and high-performing employees should be the first to return to kickstart business as effectively as possible. It would also be responsible not to select workers from high-risk groups or those that rely on public transport to get to work whilst the government is still enforcing social distancing measures. If there are not enough volunteers, the same selection criteria should be used to decide which employees will be told their Furlough has ended and are required to return. All Furloughed workers should be available to return at the employer’s request and this should have been clearly stated in their letter confirming acceptance of Furlough.

4. Rotating Furlough

Whilst government advice suggests that Furlough must be taken in minimum 3-week blocks, periods of Furlough can be broken by periods of work. If there are a high number of volunteers that all score similarly in the selection process, or simply a fairer process affording all employees the chance to return to work is desired, groups of employees could instead be rotated in 3-week blocks. Employees could be divided into group A and B and whilst group A are working, group B are furloughed and vice versa. Not only would this reduce the risk of a discrimination claim by giving all employees that want to the opportunity to return, it will also maintain high levels of engagement, motivation and thus performance and retention in the long run.

5. Ensure social distancing measures are adhered to

Before employees return to work, it is vital that thorough risk assessments and Health and Safety measures have been put in place not only to adhere to the government enforced social distancing measures but also to make employees feel safe and protected. Crucially, the 2-metre distance should be enforced throughout the entire workplace. Walkways and markers around individual workspaces would make this easily identifiable to employees. Many other measures could be taken such as providing hand sanitiser or wash stations, staggering break times to reduce capacity in communal areas and regular, thorough cleaning practices throughout the entire building. Whilst there is limited evidence for their effectiveness in preventing the spread of Covid-19, allowing employees to wear gloves or face masks may make them feel more at ease. On this note, asking employees for their opinions, concerns, thoughts and ideas on returning to work and how this can be made as safe as possible would be useful in identifying potential ideas to implement.

Whilst many workers will be excited to return to work, the impact that a government enforced lockdown has had on society should not be overlooked. Employers must ensure that when bringing employees back into the workplace it is safe to do so and they are considerate towards those that are anxious to return. Frequent communication with employees will be key to making sure that they are comfortable and able to focus on and perform in their job without being worried about Covid-19. Employers should ensure that the workforce are briefed on any new measures implemented and who they should raise concerns to if they are worried about anything.

For further support and guidance on bringing Furloughed workers back to work, please get in touch via the contact us page so that we can discuss how we can support your business in this difficult time.