Business

What employers need to think about now furlough has ended

The UK furlough scheme ended on September 30
Andrew Lightburn

WITH the furlough scheme having come to end after some 18 months, what can employers and employees now expect?

At the end of July there were still an estimated 1.6 million employees on furlough and even if those numbers have dropped over the last couple of months there is still going to be some significant changes happening this coming October.

:: Managing the return to work:

Workplaces will no doubt have changed a lot over the last 18 months in terms of working practices and office space. Many employers will be thinking about future policies around increasingly agile working, including hybrid home and office working.

:: Flexible working requests:

Some employees will now have established domestic routines based around home working or are now used to working part-time because of 'flexi-furlough' and may wish to continue that. Therefore, there could well be an increased number of formal flexible working requests as employers push for a return to normal operations.

:: Resignations:

It is likely some employees have only been 'sticking with' their employer to benefit from the furlough scheme. Employees may have had time to reflect on their jobs or may even have taken second jobs whilst on furlough. It is therefore likely some employees will simply not return to work.

:: Redundancies:

Sadly, redundancies are likely to occur, but most will already be in the system as employers rush to deal with these before the furlough scheme ends. It is more likely the type of redundancies we will see are those linked not necessarily with reduced levels of work but rather changes to the way work is done or where it is done.

:: Change to terms and conditions:

It is likely some employers will want to change certain terms and conditions of employment that have arisen during furlough. For example, changes to location of work, working hours, the role being undertaken. Then also ensuring lessons learned from furlough are incorporated into contracts such as 'lay-off' and 'short-time working' clauses.

:: Engaging individuals as freelancers or independent contractors:

With the continued economic uncertainty some employers may shy away from taking on employees for certain roles and instead manage the risk and offer roles on a consultancy basis. This avoids employment rights and provides maximum flexibility in terms of terminating engagements at will.

:: Holidays:

Many employees will still have significant holiday entitlements left to take. So, we could well see employers proposing longer Christmas shut downs, or allowing employees to carry over increased holiday into the next holiday year or even introducing a holiday buy back scheme.

Hopefully this will be a permanent goodbye to furlough, a concept that was little known in the UK before March 2020.

It has dominated people's lives across the nation for the last 18 months, however, it has undoubtedly saved many jobs and businesses and will be considered a relative success despite the huge financial cost.

:: Andrew Lightburn (andrew.lightburn@dwf.law) is employment director at DWF Belfast (www.dwf.law)

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