Covid - Avoiding Furlough Coma

Now that flexible furlough has come into effect, we are starting to see more businesses bring workers back into work on a part-time or flexible basis. Most employees are pleased to be able to return to work, even if the new environment seems a little strange. However we have been asked to advise in several cases where employees have demonstrated some resistance to returning to the workplace.

Some of these instances are owing to a genuine fear over welfare, and it’s inevitable that individuals will be concerned for their health or for the health of those they live with who are in recognised vulnerable groups. Some cases though seem to be as a result of employees becoming too comfortable not working; something we’ve heard referred to as ‘furlough coma’. These workers are just looking for excuses to remain on furlough or treat furlough as a holiday.

Throughout the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, it’s always been the case that if there is work to be done then employees should be at work to fulfil it if they can do so safely. Enabling home-working has largely helped to achieve this. For jobs that can only be done on-site, in a factory perhaps, then furlough has been the default solution. Now though, flexible furlough presents an excellent opportunity to begin to ease employees back into work on a shift or rota basis and employers should be putting together a plan to achieve this.

Being on furlough should be viewed similarly to being on standby. Workers should be readily available to come into work if they are required or asked to. But, under the circumstances, and with some employees not having done any work for months, a structured and consistent approach will ensure employees are treated equally and fairly.

Here are some pointers on what you might consider:

  • Give plenty of notice: It’s best practice to give your employees fair notice that you’ll be expecting them back into work. There may be issues such as childcare that need to be resolved. A week is fair but 48 hours is probably minimum

  • Hold a return to work interview: we recommend this for every return from absence and furlough should be no different. Use the meeting to check the employee’s health, mental health and any concerns they have about returning

  • Offer re-familiarisation days: Give employees the chance to come in and have a look around so they can acquaint themselves again with the workplace and understand any changes you have made to keep people safe such as one-way systems or work units

  • Plan and communicate any rotas or shifts: If you’re bringing people back on a rota or shift basis make sure you’ve worked out who is working with who and clearly communicate when people will be required for work. Remember that if you’re leaving a time window between shifts that staff shouldn’t turn up for work early

Remember too that staff may also have concerns involving their journey to work. You’ll have less control over this but don’t ignore it.

If you require any help or support with getting you employees back to work, either by preparing a plan or through more formal approach towards those showing resistance, call us on 01452 331331 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.