A round-up of our FAQ's on furlough which we have been posting daily to keep our clients and network up to date. If you have a question on furlough or need any other HR advice, please get in touch on 0844 879 7286.
I have employees on furlough who are ignoring my calls and not responding to emails so I can discuss their return to work - what do I do?
It may feel like your employees have lost sight in the purpose of furlough, to avoid redundancy and secure their jobs, and are perhaps treating this like a period of paid leave which can be frustrating when you are needing to make contact.
If you have made a number of attempted calls and emails and received no response then it may be that you need to send a letter to request they make immediate contact with this business and make clear they are obliged to be available for work and to respond to your requests as an employer as they are employed during any period of furlough.
If possible, ensure you have made a record of the times you have tried to call / text / email. Make clear in the letter you send when you expect a response by and how you want them to make contact. Ensure you send the letter registered post to have a record this has been signed for and received.
Generally, this will generate a response and your employee will re-establish contact for you to plan for their return to work.
If your employee fails to make contact after being requested to do so by letter then your immediate question may be as to whether they are safe and well and so if you have an emergency contact on file you may want to try and make contact with them to check the safety and welfare of your employee. If after making contact, you are advised they are safe and well then you can move forward on the basis that it appears your requests are being ignored.
Your option at this stage may be to write to the employee again setting out the number of attempts you have made to contact them, the fact you have checked with their emergency contact and they appear to be safe and well and so you can only assume they have resigned their position with the business. Give them the opportunity to contact you if that is not the case. If they fail to make contact as requested, then you would process their resignation as normal.
When ending employment it is always advisable to seek professional HR advice to ensure you are following the correct process and have grounds for terminating employment.
If a member of staff is working under the flexible furlough scheme do I need to write to them every time I want them to work?
You are required to have an agreement in place for each employee that you intend to place on the Flexible Furlough Scheme which explains that this means an employee may be fully furloughed and confirms the rates at which they will be paid or that they may be required to work part-time and be furloughed part-time and subsequently explain the rates that they would be paid at. Within this agreement you can state how you are going to communicate what hours you need them to work on a week by week basis without having the need to specify these in writing each time. If you have an employee that is not working and remains fully on furlough then you should maintain a record of when their furlough starts and stops which should be in writing as this may be required by HMRC to support your claim.
Do I have to wait until October when the furlough scheme stops before I make redundancies?
The purpose of the furlough scheme was to aid businesses in keeping jobs secure until such a time as they could perhaps establish what the longer term needs of the business may be. This has been difficult for many as there are a number of variables and unknowns to what the future may hold for them.
You are able to make redundancies at any time in your business, even when an employee is on furlough when you have established there is a need to make permanent reductions to your workforce. You should follow the normal redundancy process that is set out in your Redundancy Policy or by ACAS in the absence of a company policy.
Part of the considerations in the redundancy process is what alternatives are available to redundancy. Up to July, for many, the furlough scheme has been this alternative. As the furlough scheme increases the requirement for employers to contribute this will undoubtedly force businesses to make the permanent cuts needed through redundancy – the timing of these may be driven by the stage at which they are at with the support available through the furlough scheme.
Before you commence redundancy processes, please ensure you have sought professional HR advice so that you are following the correct procedures and taking into account any aspects such as redundancy pools or selection criteria to ensure the redundancy is fair.
How can I handle staff who can’t return to work due to childcare?
This is a dilemma many businesses are facing as we see more and more companies requesting that their staff return to working from a business premises, yet the schools (for the majority) are not back until September.
We have been in exceptional times and so I would always encourage business owners to consider that the arrangements you may have for staff working from home more flexibly need not be a permanent arrangement but offering flexibility and support now will generate goodwill and loyalty in the months and years to come.
The starting point must be communication – speak to your employees well in advance of wanting to make any changes to find out what position they are personally in and see if there is a compromise to be reached, for example working from home part of the week and in the office.
The current Government guidance is of course to allow home working where this is possible and so if this is not having a detrimental affect on your business, it would be advisable to allow employees that may struggle to return to the business premises to continue working from home.
An employee of course has the right to either take Parental Leave or Emergency leave for the Care of Dependants which is unpaid, however if backed into a corner with the choice of either taking care of their family or working back at a business premises there is the very real possibility they will be forced to choose their family and unpaid leave which leaves you without that resource and likely the employee is left feeling a little bitter and disappointed that they have not been supported.
Of course, if you have an employee that is refusing to work despite reasonable accommodations then you may have to consider disciplinary action which I would encourage you to discuss with a HR professional before taking action.
This is a great opportunity as employers for us to show our staff they are valued and giving support during exceptional times – the goodwill this will create will make your team even greater ambassadors for your business which is the most powerful endorsement.
A member of staff is refusing to come to work but has no medical issue and has no childcare. How do I handle this situation?
It can be a frustrating situation to find yourself in when you may have had employees either on furlough or working from home who then appear to refuse to return to work for no apparent reason when you have been working hard to maintain security for their jobs. It’s important not to let this frustration prevent a reasonable solution and so here are our tips to resolve these situations:
It is important to take time to meet either face to face (if safe to do so) or perhaps arrange a video call so you are seeing your employee rather than communicating via text / email or even over the phone.
Ask your employee what their reasons are for not wanting to return to work and listen to their response.
Many employees are fearful to return to work as after a period of isolation working from home or being on furlough then making a return to work could be a much bigger ordeal in their mind than when they were in the routine of coming to work every day. These fears may be irrational but should not be dismissed as unreasonable.
Explain the measure you have in place and show them the risk assessments you have completed to ensure they are safe at work. You can talk through how in practice this will work and perhaps even offer for them to visit the workplace before a return to see for themselves before all employees are back.
3. Reach an agreement
Perhaps you would be able to accommodate a phased return to work to allow an employee to see for themselves that there is nothing to be fearful of. You may reach an agreement for a short term change to their working patterns or hours to have them in the business at times where there are less employees.
Are there any reasonable accommodations you can make to help, for example their fear may not be of the workplace but of travelling on public transport so what choices do you have to help them work around this?
If you cannot reach an agreement, and it appears that there is no feasible reason they are unable to return to work then you may need to consider taking disciplinary action. Always seek the advice of a HR professional to ensure this is the right course of action.
Visit our FAQ page here for all your burning questions on HR and H&S https://www.questconsultingservices.co.uk/faqs
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