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How to Maintain Risk-Free Contact With Furloughed Staff

How best can risk-free contact be maintained with furloughed employees during COVID-19?
13 May 2020 | Updated 11 August 2020
 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been questions raised regarding the rules for furloughed employees. Whilst the government have laid out some clear guidelines, other less obvious issues remain in a grey area.

Recently, ThisWeekinFM looked into the idea that connecting and posting on business social platforms such as LinkedIn might be considered a breach. Consulting Clyde & Co’s Nick Elwell-Sutton, we examined the concerns and attempted to clear up some of those potential question marks.

It is thought that HMRC will be asking employers to submit detailed information about furloughed employees, and such claims are thought to be subject to audit.

With the concept of furloughing staff en masse still very much unfamiliar territory for the UK workforce, what else should employers be keeping in mind? And how best can risk-free contact be maintained?     

“Communication with staff during furlough presents employers with some issues. Furloughed staff must not work for their employer until furlough ends. If the employees do any work, then the employer’s claims for the government grant may be jeopardised."

– CIPD guidance 

 

How should I communicate with my furloughed employees?

 

As an employer, you may be concerned with wanting to keep up communication with your staff, but without breaching any conditions of furlough or jeopardising your ability to claim the COVID-19 grant.

The concept of furloughing staff does not actually exist in UK employment law, hence the many questions surrounding specific details such as communication. 

CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, defines the difficulty:

“Communication with staff during furlough presents employers with some issues. Furloughed staff must not work for their employer until furlough ends. If the employees do any work, then the employer’s claims for the government grant may be jeopardised. 

“On the other hand, an employer’s duty of care for employees continues during furlough so employers must maintain non-work-related contact furloughed staff to discuss any personal matters, including their health and well-being, and to allow employees to ask any questions or raise concerns.

“Contact also helps maintain furloughed employees’ loyalty and engagement so that they can return to work smoothly after the lockdown.” 

Purely social contact with employees is permitted, and the CIPD recommends that furloughed employees are given an HR contact, in case any HR-related questions or concerns arise. Furlough is, put simply, a temporary period of absence of work, so the same rights apply. This includes Statutory Sick Pay, maternity and other parental rights, rights against unfair dismissal and redundancy payments.

 

Can my staff use their work email?

 

The government guidance on furloughed staff does not currently address work email use. The CIPD recommends that employers use their own discretion, and should be wary of the fact that checking work-related emails and forwarding them on, could count as work.

To ensure employees do not undertake any work, the CIPD suggests that it may be easier to limit access to work emails, with a mechanism for incoming emails to be monitored and diverted:

“Employers can then switch to personal email for their own communications, checking that employers have up to date details (including current personal email and postal addresses) for each employee. This makes it harder for employees to work and creates a clear distinction between furloughed employees and those who are still working.”

 

Can I set my furloughed staff training tasks?

 

Essentially, the current guidance states that so long as it doesn’t provide services to or generate revenue for their employer, training whilst on furlough is permitted. In fact, the Gov.uk website explicitly states that furloughed employees should be encouraged to undertake training.

In an update on 30 April 2020, it was stated that employees who are furloughed and who are union or non-union representatives may undertake duties and activities for the purpose of individual or collective representation of employees or other workers.  

Digital training opportunities and webinars are abundant in most industries now, and it is clear that employers are being urged to encourage the use of these. 

Picture: A photograph of a person smiling, on a phone call

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 13 May 2020

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