Friday, 19 June 2020 15:51

Return to Work Challenges

As more businesses return to work and we draw closer to the winding down of the Government’s Furlough Scheme, employers will be experiencing new challenges in managing and motivating their teams. We have already been asked to support with some staff who have demonstrated reluctance in returning to work. Others are facing logistical issues in maintaining their workplaces as a safe environment and employee wellbeing continues to be a concern for many.

This Government has a fine balancing act to perform. The management of our exit from the Covid crisis will probably be the defining factor of its tenure. Relax restrictions too early and we face a second wave of the virus that puts more lives in danger. Enabling a full return to work too late risks hobbling the economy beyond the point from which a speedy recovery can be made. Today’s announcement that Government borrowing has exceeded GDP, the first time since 1963, has only compounded the pressure.

For employers, with the obvious exception of income and cashflow, the overriding issue is managing the return of workers. Some employees haven’t worked for the entire duration of lockdown, and whilst you might expect many to be chomping at the bit to get back to work, there are others who, for various reasons are less enthusiastic.

Working from home should still be the default position where possible but of course that’s simply impossible for most manual jobs and retail which was allowed back this week. As other sectors return, particularly where customer interaction is involved, we may see more examples of resistance to return to work.

The main reasons that we are coming across for not wanting to come back to work are:

Care – This is largely down to childcare as the return of schools remains uncertain. There may still be an option to furlough employees who are struggling to find childcare, especially where the usual solution would have been a grandparent who is now shielding. Otherwise it’s unpaid parental or dependants leave.

Shielding – If the employee is shielding because they are recognised as being in a vulnerable group then they should be either furloughed, on SSP or unpaid leave. Government guidance has always been that there are no special considerations for anyone living with someone who is shielding so that’s not a reason to stay away from work. In this case unpaid leave is appropriate or even disciplinary action.

Anxiety – Covid-19 remains a threat and we must all stay alert so it’s reasonable that people will feel anxious about potentially exposing themselves to the virus by coming back to work, or even whilst travelling to the place of work. Provided you have carried out your due diligence including workplace and individual risk assessments, this shouldn’t be an argument. You could offer some people lower risk work if it’s available but remember you should be treating everyone equally.

Loving the Furlough life – There will be those that have become accustomed to an easy life and prizing them away to come back to work may prove quite a challenge. Remember that if you have work for staff members to do then it’s okay for you to ask them to come back and do that work. You don’t have to keep them furloughed because that’s what they want. You would be within your rights to withhold pay and probably pursue a disciplinary line if employees continually failed to engage.

In managing employees back to work there isn’t a one size fits all. We’re finding that the situations behind employees not wanting to return can be quite complex and nuanced. Our best advice is to speak to us if you experience any of the above issues yourself. If you need any support please call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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