Mix together a global pandemic with an unprecedented job retention scheme from the government, whilst navigating employees working from home, and it would be easy for HR procedures to go out of the window!
We’re all trying to find our new normal, but ensuring you stay HR-compliant (and most importantly, legal!) can save bigger headaches further down the line.
If you do find yourself in a position where you need to furlough staff, there’s some key things to bear in mind.
Selecting which staff to furlough
The most important thing to remember, is that you’re furloughing staff because no work is available. This isn’t an opportunity to cut the deadwood if business is running as normal for you. You should also remember that you have to furlough staff for a minimum of three weeks.
It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with equality and discrimination laws, as they’ll still be in place, and you could find yourself in hot water should you end up furloughing just one gender, or just older members of staff for example. It makes sense to treat the process as you would redundancies, whereby a points system is in place to make it less personal. Not only does this protect you from a legal standing, it’s important in maintaining trust and respect within the workplace – albeit the remote workplace.
Some businesses may choose to identify certain departments that it is possible to furlough staff within, and then allow people to volunteer. Parents struggling to entertain or educate children at home for example may be more open to becoming furloughed than someone living alone struggling to meet their mortgage payments.
Communicating this to your employees
Something that not all employers are aware of, is that employees must be consulted about the furlough scheme, and must agree to become furloughed. Of course, most of your team are likely to accept this, as the alternative could be losing their job entirely, but it’s an important fact to be aware of. In light of lockdown rules, you should aim to tell those being furloughed by phone call or video call, not purely by email alone.
You should also clearly communicate the outcome of the furlough process to remaining staff, to encourage open and honest communication, and avoid gossip and rumours. Make an effort to emphasise that lines of communication are always open should anyone have questions or concerns.
To cover yourself against claims, it’s so important to keep a record of the process itself, as well as any correspondence with the staff you have furloughed. In order to be eligible for the grant, employers are actually required to confirm in writing to their employees that they have been furloughed. You also need to keep a record of this for a minimum of five years.
If the furloughing was conducted via phone or video call, document the times, and consider having the meeting transcribed and filed. Transcription companies are well-versed in dealing with complex recordings where there may be background noise and multiple speakers, to help you obtain a clear record of everything that was discussed and agreed, which can then be filed and will protect you legally.
Considering the alternatives
If employees do not agree to be furloughed, you may also dismiss them by reason of redundancy, as long as the reasons for doing this meet criteria, and a proper process is followed and documented.
Some employees may act in the heat of the moment, possibly because they resent that they have been deemed non-essential over their colleagues, and may threaten to leave or reject being furloughed. If you’re keen to keep them, give them a little time to cool down and consider changing their mind before you proceed. To quote an overused, but still true, phrase – we’re in unprecedented times and everyone is under significantly more stress than usual, so try to remain level-headed and be compassionate and understanding where reasonable.
Contact with staff who have been furloughed
As you may already be aware, there are strict rules around employees not working if they have been furloughed.
However, from a duty of care perspective, it’s a good idea to present your furloughed team with an HR contact so they can discuss any personal matters, such as their health and wellbeing, or a change in circumstances (for example, becoming pregnant). They may also have questions relating to the impact of being furloughed on pension payments, or annual leave allowance, for example, that may not have been front of mind when they were initially furloughed.
Business owners and HR departments are in a position they’ve never found themselves in before, but by following procedure, communicating openly and documenting correspondence, they can limit any further damage.
Denise Elsdon is the Founder of Alphabet Secretarial, based in Hertfordshire, UK, which has provided professional transcription services for more than 25 years, working closely with HR and legal departments in organisations including CrossCountry Trains, Tesco and Chatham House.