Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on the 10th May that the message was changing from "Stay at Home" to "Stay Alert" and the guidance that was published the following day, the Chancellor announced on the 12th May that the furlough scheme was being extended further.
He told MPs that the scheme would be extended further until the end of October. However, the scheme would change from the end of July to allow employees who are furloughed to work part time with the cost being shared by the employer. The details are still lacking, but Rishi Sunak has said that more information will be provided on the changes by the end of May.
This means that if you currently have staff who are furloughed, the terms will remain as they are until the end of July – i.e. you will be reimbursed at the rate of 80% of their normal rate of pay up to a maximum of £2,500. But after that things will change. The idea behind this relates to the fact that the government is trying to help the phasing of the return to work.
If you are working on your plans for return to work – either for those furloughe or those currently working from home, consider three questions:
• Is it essential for them to return? (can they work safely in their current manner – e.g. from home?)
• Is it safe? Employers have a duty of care to identify and manage risks to ensure that the workplace is safe enough to return to. See the guidance on what is required for each sort of business https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19
• Is it mutually agreed? Lots of people will be anxious about returning and so having a discussion to involve staff in designing the measures for returning or addressing issues that may be personal to them (e.g. they may not be able to return yet if they have childcare issues and the schools are not open.)
Ultimately it will be a balance, but the pressure is now on to start the planning for the return to work – or to establish a new way of working that will address the concerns raised by staff. This will give you time to think through your options.