Bringing Staff Back to Work After Furlough – Is it the right time?

Returning to work after furlough

It is up to employers to decide when staff should return to work after furlough. But how do you identify if it’s the right time?

Some staff may have genuine concerns about returning to work. Others may wish to return when you believe it would be better for them not to.

Reasons why staff may not want to return to work after furlough

There may be circumstances when staff don’t want to come back to work.

Where their reasons are genuine, you should extend current arrangements wherever possible.

Genuine reasons staff might not feel able to return include:

  • On-going shielding/vulnerability concerns due to underlying health conditions
  • On-going childcare complications due to school closures and normal childcare arrangements being unavailable
  • Pregnancy
  • Poor mental health due to bereavement or financial, family or health concerns
  • Concerns around travelling on public transport
  • Availability of public transport

Discuss with your employee whether there are any options under the flexible furlough scheme which may make it easier for them to return.  For example, a temporary change to when they work their hours to fit around childcare.

Be reasonable about requests to extend furlough. Don’t become an employer everyone is talking about for the wrong reasons!

For on-going staff absence due to extended furlough, arrange temporary cover as needed.

You could offer overtime hours to colleagues or offer work to others on a casual basis.

What to do if staff don’t want to return to work after furlough

You should:

If you’ve done the above, there is not much more you can do!

If staff are being unreasonable, you don’t have to simply accept this!

  • Can they justify why they don’t want to come back?
  • Can they explain how their personal circumstance prevent them from completing their work?
  • Can they explain why any proposed changes to hours or working patterns won’t help them?

‘I need to do the grocery shopping for my elderly parents’ isn’t a good reason for not coming back to work. Unless of course they are shopping every day for an extended period!

If there is no justifiable reason preventing them from returning, confirm:

  • The date furlough leave will end
  • The date they are due back to work on normal salary
  • That if they do not return this will be classed as unpaid leave

You could take disciplinary action as a last resort.  However, it’s worth considering if you really want the associated hassle and stress of a disciplinary process under current circumstances.

You should ideally avoid making a unilateral decision to dismiss them and reemploy on new terms. This could open you to an employment tribunal claim.

What to do if someone wants to come back when you think they shouldn’t

If you don’t feel someone should be back at work for health reasons, it’s important that you get expert advice.

Advice could include:

  • A GP report
  • An occupational health assessment
  • A Health & Safety Risk assessment

You should ensure you document any advice you give to your staff against their return to work. They should also sign to confirm it is their choice to go against your advice.

To ensure your meet your legal obligations of duty of care under Health and Safety it may become necessary to place them on full pay medical suspension leave.

Supporting your team back to work

Times are challenging, so it’s important you consider how best to support your team back to work

The current pandemic is unprecedented. The times call for greater understanding, flexibility, and cooperation from employers and staff. Your business will benefit in the long term if you show empathy and understanding to your team.

Do you have any questions around bringing staff back to work after furlough? If so, get in touch today. Contact Debbie on 07885 370054 or email

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