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Staying in touch during furlough leave & thinking about future staffing

7th May 2020.

We’re expecting a lot of employee nervousness when it comes to returning to work and employers with customer facing businesses will have their customer’s concerns to deal with too.

We’ve been working with clients to help maintain contact with employees and to provide some reassurance for their safety when it comes to a return to work. We would definitely encourage any employer who has had staff on furlough leave for a while now to make contact with them and to start preparing them not just for a return to work but for changes in staffing that could be ahead.

Reassuring staff

It would be helpful to set out what changes to the workplace will be in place by the time a return to work is called. In particular:

  • What practical measures will be taken to ensure social distancing (e.g. spacing desks, use of screens, customer queueing rules, toilet facilities etc.)
  • What additional measures will help with hygiene (e.g. encouraging regular handwashing, sanitation stations, PPE, providing desk cleaning facilities etc.)
  • What additional rules will apply while COVID-19 remains a threat (e.g. what to do if symptoms appear in the family, not being within 2m of another employee, no FTF meetings unless essential etc.)

We would also encourage employers to consult directly with their staff about any measures staff think should be considered to help achieve a safer workplace (and to ensure suggestions are followed up.)

The government has produced a webpage covering social distancing in the workplace.

myHRdept will be happy to supply template letters for the purpose of staying in touch for all of our retained clients, and if other employers want help drafting their own letter we will extend the furlough SERVICE100 scheme to obtain template letters and advice for this purpose.


What do future staffing numbers look like?

Employers are also starting to think about their post-crisis staffing requirements. It is clear that, vaccine aside, the world is not going to be the same as it was.

Any business that relies on volumes of customers in one location in particular is going to have to think about altering their model to work with fewer more spaced out customers. That will surely have an impact on their future staffing requirements and the scope of the goods/services they provide.

All employers affected by COVID-19 should be assessing their post lockdown staffing needs and, sadly this may mean making semi-permanent staff reductions. Where necessary this should be done properly and with advice. Employment laws remain in place & tribunal applications are already at their highest levels in years, but legal issues aside there may be other ways to reduce labour than redundancies.

Contact myHRdept to discuss your particular circumstances – we’ll help you consider the options, put together a plan and implement it.


Do we need the office?

Many office based and service delivery businesses have been working through an enforced extended home working trial. How effective has that been, what could be improved and do we really need that big expensive office after all?

Effective video conferencing equipment is expensive but so are company cars and plane tickets and given the environmental agenda shouldn’t we be thinking about investing more money in helping employees work more effectively at home where that’s possible? I have a feeling garden ‘office pod’ manufacturers are going to do rather well in the next few years.


But where we do need people to work at our premises, what changes might be made?

There will always be businesses who need people to attend premises of course – it’s (currently) nearly impossible to pick crops and run production lines without teams of people, but changes can be made to promote safety. Obvious considerations will extend to social distancing workers, providing screens, PPE and additional sanitisation points with extended hand washing time for employees who might come into contact with virus by touching materials deliveries etc. (see the social distancing information on .gov.)

We have clients who (with their employee’s permission) check employee temperature at the start of shifts. Sending home an employee with a temperature might limit the spread of COVID-19, but just as beneficially it might help stop the spread of colds and ‘routine’ flus…and if the employee is ill, it might help them seek earlier treatment and recover more quickly.


what about terms and conditions?

Wider debates will include the use of zero hours contracts. Many zero hours employees can’t afford not to work when they’re ill with devasting impact on those they come into close contact with. Actually this concern extends not just to zero hours workers, but any worker not able to access sick pay other than SSP.

While changes to terms might eventually materialise at a national level, closer to home employers might consider whether zero hours workers should really be on that type of contract – government guidelines make clear that where weekly working hours are reasonably consistent, a zero hours contract is not the right choice.

Further, those employers who do not pay sick pay and instead rely on SSP might consider whether the indirect cost of sick employees struggling into work might not make sick pay a price worth paying. Some of our clients offer up to a week’s worth of paid sick leave a year, and that might just be enough to offset a more costly problem of air born virus contamination. There are opportunities perhaps to offer enhanced sick pay arrangements in exchange for employee agreement to in-work health checks, like temperature testing.

Other implications we anticipate will be around home-working – both in contractual and policy terms. COVID-19 forced many employers rapidly into home working without doing the things we would normally suggest clients do – implement a policy, check employee’s home working arrangements are suitable, check for health and safety issues and update data protection rules and measures etc.  If homeworking is likely to become a new normal, then these things should be done. Contact myHRdept for a homeworking policy and to discuss the other implications.


If you’re thinking of outsourcing your HR or employment law needs, why not contact myHRdept? Call us on 01628 820515 to discuss your requirements or contact us and we’ll call you back.

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