Most frequently asked questions

Most frequently asked questions

  • Date: Tuesday 26th May 2020
  • PDF: Download

Here comes a summary of the most common challenges our consultants currently come across:

We are ready to bring back some of our workforce – how do we decide who remains on furlough?

Think about what you would do if you had to lay people off. You would probably keep on those employees that are multi-skilled across a number of departments, have more experience than others or hold more qualifications. Always ensure that the selection criteria you apply are documented and not based on any protected characteristics, such as age or gender etc. 

What do I have to consider when bringing people back to work?

Firstly, you will have to assess if it is safe to return to work. You will need to review your risk assessments and safe working practices and potentially make adjustments to your services or procedures. Please conduct personal risk assessments for those with underlying health conditions and seek advice if in doubt.

SSG can provide you with a full Coronavirus Return to Work Pack – please click here if you would like to benefit from this service.

My employee doesn’t want to return to work. What can I do?

There are a number of reasons your staff might not be ready to come back:



They suffer from Covid 19 symptoms.

Remain on furlough and follow Public Health England guidance on isolation.

They live with someone to has contracted Covid 19.

Remain on furlough and follow Public Health England guidance on isolation.

They have an underlying health condition.

Ask them to get a fit note from their GP with further guidance. Not everyone with an underlying condition is unable to work.

They are off sick, but not with Covid 19 symptoms.

End furlough, put them on SSP / company sick pay and ask for a fit note for absences exceeding 7 days as you usually would.

They live with someone who is ‘high risk’ due to an underlying condition.

The official guidance currently is to keep them on furlough. However, you are entitled to ask for proof of the need to isolate if you feel that the individual is exaggerating / exploiting the situation. Please ask us for advice on individual cases.

They care for a dependent and have no alternative options.

Remain on furlough and review regularly.

They have limited access to childcare / part time schooling / etc.

Assess if you are able to make adjustments to working hours / times without compromising the individual’s pay and benefits. If not, furlough should continue.

They are nervous about returning and ask a lot of questions.

This is completely normal and understandable. We have seen a dramatic rise in anxiety related conditions, and it is important employers understand the potential impact of this. If you want to learn more, sign up to one of our mental health webinars or mental health first aid training.

Continue to engage, communicate, train and explain. Hopefully, with time, insecurities will improve, and your employee will be happy to return.

They don’t believe that we can put safe systems of work in place and refuse to return.

If you are confident that you can provide a safe workplace in line with public health recommendations, then there should be no reason why healthy individuals can’t return to work. Clear communication is key – make sure they understand what measures you have put in place. If they still refuse, advise them that refusal to return constitutes a breach of contract and could lead to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal. Always ask for advice from your HR consultant before disciplining or dismissing individuals for not wanting to return to work!

I need to downsize and want to use this opportunity to dismiss employees that haven’t been performing well

During any redundancy process, employers must apply a fair selection process.

If you have in the past conducted performance appraisals, you can use the ratings in your skills matrix. However, if poor performance hasn’t been addressed in the past, it could be difficult to show how it has been measured. Employees may feel it is unfair to select them based on performance issues they may not even have been aware of.

Fair selection criteria could include:

  • Live disciplinary warnings
  • Location / travel costs to the company
  • Attendance record
  • Qualifications / affiliations
  • Experience across different disciplines
  • Length of service (although this could be linked to age discrimination – please ask your HR consultant for advice)     

Can I just go ahead and give notice?

No. You still need to go through a formal process, as per your policy or ACAS guidance. However, the consultation process may be cut short, depending on your circumstances – please contact us for further advice.

When making people redundant, how do I deal with their notice period?

You can ask people to ‘work’ their notice but leave them on furlough if you can’t provide them with work. You will have to top up their pay to 100% but can reclaim 80% of it in accordance with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Can I cut people’s pay?

Any change to terms and conditions must be agreed by the employee. Make sure you don’t ‘blackmail’ people into a situation where they agree to give up pay because of the threat of unemployment. However, you can have open, ‘without prejudice’ conversations with your teams, explaining your circumstances and asking them for suggestions that could save jobs. These suggestions might include pay cuts or freezes or a change of working hours. Ensure that any changes are always agreed in writing and signed for!

We’re not back yet, but my employee has breached contract / policy and would usually face disciplinary action. Can I still go ahead with this process?

Yes. Make sure you still follow your processes and investigate any allegations thoroughly. Meetings can be held via video link or on the phone. Please choose a method of communication that enables your employee to be accompanied.

Be aware that going through a disciplinary process remotely can be much more stressful than it would be under normal circumstances. ACAS has released new guidance, that gives helpful pointers to that end:

People have accrued a lot of holiday...

By law, up to four weeks leave can be carried forward and used over the next 2 years from April 2020. If any of your team members are still on furlough, it could be worth asking them to take some leave now, before they return (if you can afford to top up their pay for those days). There still has been no official guidance on how much holiday an employer can enforce to be taken, but we recommend asking employees to take what they have accrued during their furlough period.

Source: Manuela Grossmann

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