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Last updated: 16 Sep 2021
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Prepared for the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme? Four areas for employers to consider now

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has helped millions, with organisations relying on it to remain afloat, retain employees and reduce the need for redundancies. But the scheme is now entering its final weeks and employers need to be prepared for the practicalities of this.
A safe return

Originally introduced as a short-term measure in March 2020, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is now entering its final weeks and will end on 30 September 2021, with claims for September needing to be submitted by 14 October 2021 and any amendments made by 28 October 2021.

About the author

Danielle White

+44 (0)207 556 1224
whited@buzzacott.co.uk

Originally introduced as a short-term measure in March 2020, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is now entering its final weeks and will end on 30 September 2021, with claims for September needing to be submitted by 14 October 2021 and any amendments made by 28 October 2021.

A safe return 

As plans for reintegration commence, employers need to consider if they can bring their workforce back to resume work on pre-furlough terms.

When looking at a workplace return, safety must be a key priority. COVID-19 risk assessments and setting out employee safeguarding procedures (such as identifying activity or risk areas for the transmission of COVID-19 and the steps taken to mitigate them) are considered reasonable steps to take to protect workers. All steps taken to ensure the safety of employees should be in line with government recommendations and to help identify what activity may be required to limit the transmission of coronavirus you can view a guide here.

However, as well as preparing the physical workspace, employers will need to ensure that they’re financially able to allow staff to return. Below, we’ve outlined four practical steps for employers to take to ensure that your organisation is in a viable position for the end of the CJRS.

Step one

1. Contact your employees 

As many employees may be anxious or nervous about returning to work, we advise that employers get in contact with their employees as early as possible. It is important that you understand if their circumstances have changed, agree a return date and if appropriate, discuss the business recovery plans.

A letter inviting employees back from furlough, should ideally be sent to employees well in advance of their release from furlough and return to the workplace. Although providing notice to return is not a legal obligation, employers should bear in mind the need for employees to adjust and are reminded of their existing legal obligations, including those relating to health and safety and discrimination.

Step two

2. Consider the future of the workplace

Once you’re aware of the situation of all your employees you can consider the future of your workspace. You may be faced with questions from returning employees about possible new arrangements and if you are implementing new ways of working. It’s important to make your position clear regarding plans for flexible and hybrid working from the very beginning. We advise that the relevant policies are revised and in place before committing to a hybrid model or flexible working, long term.

As an employer you have a requirement to manage the needs of employees with circumstances making it difficult for them to return to work and you will need to consult with effected employees meaningfully, while giving careful considerations to any proposed changes.

Step three

3. Staffing costs 

Unfortunately, due to staffing costs usually being one of the largest expenses, and the end of 2020 seeing the largest spike in redundancies since the financial crisis in 2008, you may have no choice but to consider reducing your workforce. 

There are however a few options to visit before making redundancies, including

  • Pay freezes
  • Asking staff to take unpaid leave 
  • Short time working and layoffs.
Step four

4. Redundancy

If you find that you’ve no alternative other than to proceed with a reduced headcount, as an employer you must first be aware of the impact of redundancy decisions.

The importance of legal compliance and following best HR practice can’t be underestimated. A breach of employment legislation can result in expensive litigation and considerable reputational damage.

Employers should ensure that staff are selected for redundancy fairly, and that there’s a genuine reason for it. This avoids exposure to claims of unfair dismissal or discrimination (there is no qualifying period or length of service for making a claim of discrimination). 

Redundancy can be triggered by one of three situations:

  1. the closure of the business
  2. the closure of a workplace
  3. when the requirement for an employee to carry out work of a particular kind is no longer needed.

If there’s a change within your business strategy due to COVID-19, or if your business is unable to welcome back furloughed staff due to financial strain, this could also constitute a redundancy situation.

A redundancy process is never an easy or pleasant process for any party, but it’s even more challenging during these uncertain times. This means its important employers meaningfully consult with all employees who are potentially affected by redundancy. There’s no time limit for how long the period of consultation should be, but the minimum is:

  • 20 to 99 redundancies - the consultation must start at least 30 days before any dismissals take effect
  • 100 or more redundancies - the consultation must start at least 45 days before any dismissals take effect.

If there are less than 20 redundancies, there’s no fixed period of consultation you must adhere to, instead, it must be considered “meaningful”. In the event of a collective redundancy consultation, employers must also inform and consult with appropriate representatives.

Next steps

Next steps

We will continue to publish further information as it is announced. As an employer there are some steps you should be taking now, these include:

  • Reviewing your cash flow situation
  • Being aware of the furlough claim dates 
  • Review or implement the relevant policies 
  • Identify and plan for employees to return to work
  • Have clear reasoning behind decisions to decrease head count
  • Undertake appropriate consultation and ensure that employment documentation is updated.

For further advice and support for employers on this topic, or any other HR matters, please contact the HR Consultancy Team via the form below.

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