Olivia Bailey, solicitor in our employment and regulatory team, offers guidance for employers after the government’s recent announcement of an extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and its plans to encourage employees to return to their workplace.
Last update May 14, 2020
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has helped a quarter of the workforce across the UK retain an income throughout the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. It also enables the possibility of these people (currently only in England) to return to work in the future and to hopefully prevent widespread layoffs and redundancies.
Initially, the scheme was only to be in place until the end of May 2020, but was then extended to the end of June.
On Tuesday 12 May, the scheme was further extended by four months until the end of October 2020. The announcement came with the promise of extra flexibility to help the transition of employees back to work from August onwards. Employers that are currently using the scheme will be able to bring workers back into work on a part-time basis, however full details of these proposals are yet to be announced.
The extension of the scheme will undoubtedly help organisations to retain employees and reduce the need for layoffs and redundancies, as the economic outlook remains uncertain. Despite this, it is still important that employers keep the situation under review and continue to use this additional support while planning for the future.
Considerations include what changes may be required once the scheme becomes more flexible and as the responsibility for the payment of wages steadily shifts back to employers.
Planning for the future
Many businesses are already considering plans for restructuring, perhaps to take account of the success of homeworking, as almost half of the nation’s workforce can now work from home.
Even where the furlough scheme and homeworking have been successful solutions during the initial stages of the pandemic, businesses should have back-up plans in place for the coming months, even if they are not currently considering making any amendments or redundancies, should these circumstances change.
Employers should also aim to keep employees fully informed on their future plans, especially if they are proposing changes to their workforce, including redundancies or pay cuts. It is important to seek specialist advice regarding redundancy formalities and consultation, or regarding changes that may be required to employee contracts.
Adopting a collaborative approach with employees is always sensible and will help to gain ‘buy-in’ and support from employees if you are considering any detrimental changes to their employment terms.
Returning to the workplace
The government has also announced that businesses should encourage employees that cannot work from home to return to work. Guidance has been published for eight workplace settings, to help businesses get back up and running safely for employees returning to their workplace.
It is important that employers consider the relevant guidance for their workplace and carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment to ensure that they comply with their duty to protect their employees, and in particular, their health and safety.
Employers may also now require employees to return from furlough. This will necessitate careful planning and employee engagement, to take account of childcare responsibilities and their methods of transport to return to work.
Businesses should be looking to continue supporting employees wherever possible, in line with government guidance. However, the clearest message remains that where employees can work from home, they should continue to do so.
Harrison Drury’s employment and regulatory team can provide expert advice and guidance to help businesses bring employees back into work, ending furlough leave, as well as giving support to organisations looking to restructure or carry out a redundancy exercise.
If you require any assistance in relation to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, or for other employment related queries, please contact our team on 01772 258321.