Covid - The End of Furlough

After being extended to October 2020 and then to April 2021, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, or Furlough Scheme, is finally due to conclude at the end of September. As of July, ONS figures show that less than 8% of employees remained on furlough for most regions in England and Wales, and for many regions the figure was less than 5%.

This still means however that at least one in every 20 employees remains on furlough in England and Wales and amounts to many hundreds of thousands of workers across the country. As the scheme winds up, we’re heading toward crunch time for decisions to be made about these workers and their return to work, or otherwise.

Furlough was always intended to support those workers for whom there was not enough or no work to sustain their job because of the effects of the pandemic. At the time of writing the closure of the scheme is just a few weeks away so employers should already have a reasonably accurate idea as to whether or not business is going to pick up enough to bring furloughed works back into the business.

The available options for what employers can do with furloughed workers are fairly straightforward:

  • Bring them back to work under the same terms and conditions as before furlough
  • Bring them back under new terms
  • Dismiss, if less than two years’ service
  • Make them redundant

With the exception of a few industries that rely on the business generated by schools, colleges and Universities operating as normal, we should probably question why workers haven’t already been brough back to their old jobs if it is cost effective to do so.

If a change of terms is required to make it cost effective for workers to resume, such as reduced hours, reduced pay or both, then conversations should have already taken place as a change of terms usually requires a period of consultation. There is the fire and rehire option of course but this is quite a drastic measure that comes loaded with risk and should only ever be used as a last resort.

If there isn’t enough work for the worker to come back to and they have been employed for less than two years, then normally, they can simply be let go. However, remember to factor in notice periods and realistically, is this likely to be an option for anyone who has gone through 19 months of furlough?

Finally, there is the redundancy option. Again, if this is likely to be the outcome then employers should already be engaging in conversation with employees and starting the required consultation period. If redundancy is the plan, then are those who at risk in a pool of one, a few or many?

Imagine a call centre say that has 10 agents of equal standing, eight are at work and two remain furloughed. If at the end of September there is only enough work to sustain the eight working operators and two redundancies are required, then all 10 staff members must be put at risk and a selection process undertaken. Simply making the two furloughed staff members redundant is laden with risk.

Employers, take note; the end of furlough is not a fair reason for dismissal. A proper process needs to be executed, and one that will probably incorporate some form of consultation.

There has been some commentary in the media that employees who have been furloughed for a long period of time may need to undertake some re-training on their job function and/or re-integration back to the workplace. Making use of the flexible furlough option is a great solution for manging this.

With so many employees remaining on furlough we may be heading for something of a crunch-point on October 1st.

The key point is to make sure you have communicated with your furloughed employees in plenty of time of the scheme ending at the end of the month. Explain what your expectations are and the potential and probably next steps following furlough.

Don’t overlook that you may have individuals who have underlying health issues or mental health issues, possibly exacerbated by their time away from the workplace, who don’t want to come back to work. If you are confident you have made your work environment a safe place then hold a meeting and listen to their concerns. Agree a return plan and discuss any adjustments you can make. If necessary, consider a referral to an Occupational Health specialist. Dismissal may become an option if all other routes have been exhausted.

For support and advice with any of the issues raised here, call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.