North East Connected

HR expert warns businesses of ‘furlough fever’ when getting staff back to work

Nicky Jolley, managing director of HR2day in Darlington, has warned businesses of ‘furlough fever’ when trying to get employees back to work, potentially leaving them short staffed.

As a measure to support businesses during the coronavirus crisis, the government offered the opportunity to furlough staff on a long or short-term basis, allowing them to retain a salary of 80 percent and employment without the business footing the bill, avoiding emergency redundancies and layoffs.

The minimum period for furlough is three weeks, meaning many people furloughed for the shortest length of time could be returning to work imminently.

However, HR2day has already been contacted by several businesses which have had instances of staff being asked to return from furlough but have declined, asking if another member of staff could be brought back in their place.

Nicky said: “The furlough scheme has been a lifesaver for many companies, and it’s given them breathing space to get their finances in order without making any rash decisions.

“There are some employees, however, who have quite enjoyed three weeks off with 80 percent pay, and with the beautiful weather, schools being closed, and perhaps a partner furloughed or having lost their job, there have been some requests to remain on the scheme. They’ve got a touch of ‘furlough fever,’ enjoying what is, in essence, a paid holiday. Sadly, this is putting strain on businesses who need their staff back

“Of course, I would recommend a common-sense approach when discussing this with your staff. There may be a valid reason for wishing to remain on furlough, such as no available childcare, a requirement to self-isolate due to underlying conditions or a genuine fear that it is unsafe to go to work. If it’s just a case of wanting to enjoy another three weeks in the garden, employers would be well within their rights to insist this is taken as holiday, unpaid leave or even begin disciplinary proceedings.

“We must remember that the furlough scheme is an opportunity for businesses, but there is no obligation for any firm to offer it at all. If a business wishes to end its furlough, it has every right to do that. Whilst it is prudent for any manager to act with their employees’ best interests at heart, the employee should be willing to return to work, either physically or remotely, if they are able to do so.

“It is important, also, to remember that many people are dealing with mental health issues at the moment. The coronavirus situation has been traumatic for many people, on a spectrum from losing a loved one, through to fear, through to stress caused by restricted movement or concerns caused by information shared on the news or social media. This should, of course, be considered by an employer and handled sensitively, while still making the case for what the business needs.

“If businesses are struggling to get staff back and are unsure what action they can take, due to the furlough scheme being unchartered waters for many of us, I would always recommend speaking to an HR professional to get support, in order to avoid potential legal issues in the future.”

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