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Being Flexible About Furlough

Woman sitting on luggage flexible furlough Embrace HR

With so many companies furloughing their staff so quickly, there is now some essential work that needs doing – some flexibility would help companies, especially SMEs, to keep afloat…

With two-thirds of British companies using the furlough scheme during the COVID-19 crisis, it is no surprise that important tasks that should have been done before everyone left the office have been missed. It all happened so quickly that, especially for SMEs, who do not have a lot of manpower, many important back-ups were not put into place.

The problem is that once an employee has been furloughed, they are not supposed to do ANY work whatsoever. However, in real life, business cannot just come to a full stop like that, and there is work still to be done. For example, out-of-office replies need to be set up on emails, calls and emails need to be redirected, websites and social media need updating, and clients need to be contacted. Loyal and conscientious staff may want to ‘volunteer’ to undertake these roles so that things don’t fall through the cracks, and in the hope that there will be a business for them to go back to when this is all over. However, under the current rules, this is not possible.

The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development) is calling for increased flexibility within the scheme, so furloughed employees can work reduced hours for their existing employer where possible.

Flexible furlough

It is in these situations where we at Embrace HR would support a scheme that allowed for a more flexible furlough scheme – one where employees were 50 per cent furloughed and 50 per cent employed, for example. We appreciate that there would be some additional administration required for this to work, but as the situation continues we believe it would be more realistic and give smaller businesses more opportunity to help keep their companies afloat until we can all get back to work. It would also help employees to keep abreast of the business and client requirements and would enable them to ease back into the workplace. Many people have had to adjust to working remotely, and those with children have had the added responsibility of having to find time to school them. This has caused changes to working in a ‘traditional’ office, and daily commuting.

“Flexible Furlough will, in my opinion, go some way to supporting both businesses as well as employees”, said Embrace HR Director Cecily Lalloo.

Holiday allowance

Something that has been updated within the scheme is the Government’s guidance about annual leave during the furlough period. The new guidance will make it easier for employers to plan ahead. It states says that employees will still accrue their holiday allowance while on furlough. The government has relaxed the regulations and now permit 4.6 weeks’ holiday to be carried over to the next two years.

Something else that has been made clear is that staff can take holiday during the furlough period. This would mean that they would be paid 100 per cent of their usual renumeration salary. The employer can still claim 80 per cent of the holiday pay from the Government but would have to top up the other 20 per cent.

We have been lucky that the weather in the UK has been glorious since lockdown began, and many people may feel like they are on holiday anyway. But the real concern is that once people go back to work, they may still want to take their holiday time. Many staff will not have claimed any holiday during the first part of the year. If a small company has five employees, with the statutory paid holiday entitlement of 5.6 weeks (in normal circumstances), they will be expecting to take a total of 140 days’ holiday between the end of lockdown and the end of the year. This is quite a lot of time out of a small business.

For smaller companies, especially those struggling to recover, this may be difficult to manage and is going to be unsustainable, particularly if they have to pay for temporary or freelance cover when staff take holidays. It is a good idea for business owners and managers to consider how they will manage holidays, and to talk to their people.

Rolling over holiday allowance

At the end of March, the Government announced that staff who did not take all of their annual leave – because it was not practical for them to do so – because of the virus, would be allowed to carry it over into the next two years. This applies to most businesses with a few exceptions.

You may like to read our previous article on furloughing staff – good news as furlough deadline is extended.

To apply for the furlough scheme for your company, visit the gov.uk website.

If you would like to discuss this subject further and find out how we could help you navigate the furlough scheme and other COVID-19 related issues, please contact Cecily Lalloo at Embrace HR Limited.

T: 07767 308717 or contact us here.

Based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Embrace HR Limited supports business owners who do not have their own HR department or those that do but need help from time to time. We also work across the Home Counties of Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, and also SMEs based in London.