Karen Plumbley-Jones: Guidance for employers on the furlough scheme end

How many jobs have been saved by the furlough scheme? We won’t ever know the answer to that question, but 11.6 million jobs have been supported by the scheme at some point. That equates to roughly 40% of the total UK workforce and we have seen far fewer redundancies than we expected at the beginning of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, with September figures showing that the UK employment rate has almost bounced back to its pre-pandemic level.

As the furlough scheme ended on 30 September, many employees will be returning to work and for some, who have been out of the business for anything up to 18 months, going back to work will be similar to returning from maternity leave or a long period of sickness absence.

Where employers stayed in touch with staff and provided support, staff will find it easier to come back. However, employers should consider what assistance employees will need when they start work again and a mini-induction may be required to ensure they are up to speed with changes in the organisation and any new IT.

It is important that employers do not treat staff differently in future because of their period of furlough, for example in relation to promotion, discretionary bonuses or redundancy, as this could lead to claims for discrimination and unfair dismissal.

We expect that employers will only make redundancies where they have no other option. Job losses are more likely to occur in sectors that are still subject to restrictions, such as the travel industry. In previous recessions, employers were quick to save costs by making redundancies, then found it challenging to recruit the staff they needed when the economy improved.

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We currently have a competitive jobs market, with around one million vacancies and staffing shortages in various industries. Employers may find it difficult to recruit in the future if they make redundancies now.

Karen Plumbley-Jones is a managing associate at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson