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As we’ve finally surpassed the final milestone of ‘Freedom Day’ this week, it certainly feels like our lives may finally be returning back to normal. Businesses now have the choice to operate as they once did; with face masks no longer mandatory, table sizes limitless and the end to 10pm curfews, and this welcomed change is undoubtedly essential in getting the UK economy back above water.

Freedom Day brings a wealth of new opportunity and support for businesses, but unfortunately the effects of the pandemic continue to rattle with finances and operations. With the effectiveness of the NHS Track and Trace app now in dispute; thousands of key staff members being forced to isolate, continuing to put a major strain on already struggling businesses – particularly in the hospitality sector.

As a business owner, you’d be forgiven for questioning what the future holds for your company and how to operate safely and efficiently post COVID-19.

Despite ongoing support from the government during the pandemic, inevitably the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is quickly coming to an end and preparation is going to be key in re-working operations for the upcoming changes.

We’ve summed up the changes you can expect from the government in the coming months and have highlighted some useful steps that you can take as a business to prepare for the ending of furlough.

Upcoming changes to the scheme

Furlough has been extended to 30 September 2021 following the changes implemented in August, where the government decreased the amount contributed to an employee’s wages to 60%. With restrictions eased on 19 July 2021, all businesses are now permitted to operate to full capacity and therefore any remaining furloughed workers should be able to return to work.

When the scheme comes to an end, employers have the option to either return furloughed workers to work or take the route of redundancy.

Steps you can take to prepare for the ending of furlough

1. Determine when you need staff to return to work

Prepare in advance when you need staff to return to work. Take into consideration the business’ current needs and any employees struggling with managing their workload which could benefit from a member of their team returning.

3. Provide notice

Provide notice to those staff that you are planning to welcome back to work. Remember to stick to any timeframes agreed in the original furlough agreement.

5. Encourage staff communication

Ensure staff feel comfortable with their return to work. For some it may have been a while since they have worked, and they may have a number of questions and concerns to voice. Try to encourage regular team communication as this can be an anxious and stressful time and a little bit of extra support can allow a smoother transition.

You can read our returning to the "new" normal blog for guidance on supporting your employees making that transition back to the office.

2. Determine who you need back

Carefully think about who you need back for both the short and long term to help the business achieve its goals.

4. Plan financially

When staff are returning to work from furlough, it’s important you plan for these employees to be paid in full. You can also consider ways to keep costs down. For example, this may be by freezing recruitment or training for the time being.

6. Consider redundancies if necessary

If your finances have been deeply affected or if your new processes no longer require the same manpower, it may be time to consider redundancies. It’s important to always ensure you follow a fair procedure and the correct protocols, particularly in these sensitive times.

To read more around preparing for the end of furlough you can visit Croner.

Furlough 101

What is the furlough scheme?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) - also known as furlough, has been introduced with the aim to support employers struggling to maintain their workforce during the coronavirus pandemic. This scheme allows businesses to claim grants for employees with any type of employment contract if they are taxed as employees and a PAYE Real Time Information (RTI).

Employers can furlough employees for any amount of time (but minimum 7 days) and with any working pattern and can still claim the grant for hours not worked. Only employers can claim through the scheme, on behalf of their employees. Employees can not apply for the scheme themselves.

Furlough and self-isolation or sick leave

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is not intended for short term absences from work due to sickness. Short term illness or self-isolation should not be a consideration when deciding if to furlough an employee.

If an employer wants to furlough for business reasons an employee who is currently off sick, they are eligible to do so as with other employees. In these cases, a sick pay should no longer be received. If an employee is on sick leave or self-isolating as a result of coronavirus, he may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). 

Having more than one employer

Employees with more than one employer can be furloughed for each job. Each job is separate, and the £2,500 monthly cap applies to each one. An employee can be furloughed in one job and get furlough payments but continue working in another job and get his normal wages.

Furlough calculation for employees whose pay varies

For employees who have variable pay, calculation of their usual wages depends on their reference date.

For employees with a reference date of 2 March 2021, calculation is 80% of the average wages payable between 6 April 2020 (or, if later, the date the employment started) and the date before they were first furloughed on or after 1 May 2021.

You can find out more around the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme on the GOV.UK website.