The word “furlough” has now become part of our everyday language. The scheme has been a lifeline for employers during the pandemic lockdown,but is set to come to an end in October.

Bringing staff back into work from furlough – either partially or completely – is a complex process and requires careful planning. For leaders and people managers there are difficult questions – who should return? How many hours should they work? How do we help with the stress of returning to work after a long period away?

To help you manage this process, we’ll walk you through some of the things you need to consider:

Who will you bring back?

When making decisions about returning staff from furlough, you must ensure you can fully justify your decisions about who returns, and how, in case you are challenged. Decisions should be objective, and not discriminatory in any way. Think about your current business needs – what roles do you require and what skills will benefit you the most at this time? Whether you’re only choosing to open certain departments, or need to operate on a reduced workforce, be sure to follow guidance to reduce the risk of any claims against you. Download our furlough factsheet for detailed information on this.

Notice periods

Your employees should be available to return to work at any time, but you are obligated to give them reasonable notice. Contacting employees as early as possible will help you to identify if they have any concerns about going back or have issues such as childcare commitments and to decide how these can be addressed. Remember to confirm by letter the requirement to return to work and that furlough is coming to an end.

Flexible furlough

If you are not ready to bring back all of your furloughed staff, full-time, the flexible furlough scheme allows you to take a step-by-step approach. You can use a phased return, or have workers return on alternate weeks to meet changing workloads or enable social distancing in the workplace. From 1 July, adjusted working arrangements must be confirmed in writing; this is especially important if employees are having a phased return to work.

Employees’ concerns

Employees may be feeling nervous about returning to work, or feeling left out, and will need reassurance that they are safe and valued as part of the team. To help them feel more comfortable, you may wish to arrange an induction for all employees returning from furlough, along with a training session to ensure they are aware of the social distancing and other measures you have in place – if you are back in the workplace.

Notify employees of new policies

Employees may have questions about their return from furlough – will their job be the same? Will there be changes to working hours? It’s vital to notify employees of working conditions before they come back to work as you may need to make adjustments. You should also make those furloughed aware of new safety protocols and policies either by email, text, or phone call — before they return. For example, this could include the closure of lunch spaces, taking employee temperatures before they enter the building or limiting face-to-face meetings.

Redundancies

For businesses which remain in challenging situations, the flexible furlough scheme enables them to continue to limit their people costs in the short term and hopefully avoid permanent redundancies. But as a last resort you may decide you need to consider restructuring and/or redundancies. You can commence a redundancy process while an employee is on furlough, but you must still follow a fair redundancy process, with consultation and full notice periods.

Communication is essential during the return to work process. Keeping your people informed of what your business is doing – including those who may remain on furlough – will help to give them some level of security in these uncertain times.

We’ve produced factsheets and resources on topics including flexible furlough, managing flexible working requests and a back to work checklist here, to help create the best possible conditions for your business to move forward. If you have any concerns or questions around bringing staff back from furlough, get in touch with our team at info@realityhr.co.uk