Life after lockdown: How to bring employees back to work from furlough

The Northern Ireland Executive recently revealed its five-step plan for easing lockdown. While no guidance has been offered on when exactly each step will be introduced, the general consensus is that there will be a gentle easing of the lockdown rules. In fact, some businesses are already re-opening, albeit with strict plans in place, which means that employees will need to be brought back to work from furlough.

This is new territory for everyone so unsurprisingly, how to do this correctly can cause some confusion. Therefore, Consult HR’s Julie Pollock shares her simple steps on how to un-furlough employees.

Before employees return to work

Understandably, not everyone will be able to return to work right away. It will be weeks before some sectors are able to reopen their doors to staff but thinking about how you will manage people when the time comes will help make the process more straightforward. There are a few factors that you definitely need to consider and decisions will need to be made. The earlier you can do this, the quicker you will be able to get your business up and running again, when it is safe to do so.

With this in mind, it is vital that you consider the following:

  • Who will return and when? If a phased return is granted, how will you introduce this? It is worth noting that if an employee is furloughed, this must be for a minimum of three-weeks in order to claim payment.
  • Will the operations of your business be permanently affected because of coronavirus? If so, you may need to consider job roles and how these can be changed in line with new operations.
  • How will restrictions impact on workload? Will there be too little work for everyone? If so, a workforce restructure or indeed redundancies may need reviewing.
  • Is your workplace safe for employees? You should only allow staff to return to work if you can confidently answer yes to this question. Putting your employees at risk is not an option.
  • Is remote working a possibility, or can employees work in staggered shifts in order to comply with social distancing regulations?

Only after careful consideration of these points should you question whether you should un-furlough employees.

Bringing employees back from furlough

It isn’t surprising that after weeks in isolation, employees may be feeling apprehensive about returning to work. While you might be keen to get things up and running again, not everyone will share this same sentiment and concerns around health and safety will undoubtedly arise.

The easiest way to address these fears is to communicate effectively. Let employees know your plans, the results of your risk assessments and the steps you are taking to ensure their safety. Remember, employees are probably craving a sense of normality too but not at the expense of their health so reassuring them that you are taking all the necessary steps for their wellbeing will be welcomed.

Furthermore, it is strongly advised to give employees notice, in writing, detailing their return to work. This will afford them time to mentally and physically prepare for any change in circumstances and address any issues with you.

For example, if schools and childcare facilities have not fully reopened, returning to a regular 9-5 on-site working schedule might not be possible. In this instance, consider whether flexible or remote working is an option. Being mindful of everyone’s individual circumstances well in advance of your business opening again will afford you plenty of time to prepare and restructure if necessary.

Life after lockdown  

At Consult HR, we have already assisted clients in un-furloughing employees with essential roles and those who can work remotely. If you require further support with the Coronavirus please feel free to contact Julie Pollock on 07858089006 or email Visit our website here: