Soon after the UK went into lockdown in March 2020, employers were faced with a brand new concept in the world of employment, ‘furlough’. The brand new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme known as furlough, has supported over 1 million employers since it was introduced and is now due to end on 30 September 2021.

As the UK relaxes social distancing measures and there is no suggestion that the scheme will be extended further, we consider what this means for employers and those returning to the workplace.


The act of ‘un-furloughing’ has never been used in the UK prior to COVID-19, so there was no pre- precedence around how to administer it. However, we do know that we have certain legal obligations stipulating how we should treat our employees, and this should guide us in how we manage bringing employees back.

Businesses must act in accordance with existing employment legislation, whether it is the Equality Act 2010 which protects people from discrimination, or the Employment Rights Act 1996 which protects wages and people from being unfairly or constructively dismissed.

Determining an ‘un-furlough’ strategy upfront will help to ensure it is carried out fairly and objectively. It will also mean you have a documented thought process to evidence this approach should it ever be challenged.

Flexible furlough

Although there is limited time left to take advantage of the scheme, employers may wish to acclimatise by using the option to flexibly furlough employees to help in their return to work. You can decide the hours and shift patterns that your employees will work on their return so long as you pay them in full for any hours they are working.


Employers who are having to contemplate redundancies need to be aware of the timescales for consulting and how these align alongside the furlough scheme. The timescales for consultation are:

  • 45 days of consultation before the first dismissal, if you have 100 or more employees that you propose to dismiss as redundant within a 90-day period.
  • 30 days of consultation before the first dismissal, if you have 20 or more but less than 100 employees that you propose to dismiss as redundant.
  • If you have less than 20 employees that you propose to dismiss as redundant, there is a need for ‘meaningful’ consultation, which should take place over an appropriate time frame.

This means that organisations who need to go through this process in time for the end of the furlough scheme, need to be reviewing their circumstances, drafting a business case justifying the potential need for redundancy dismissals, and devising a schedule for the process now, so that they are ready to announce the start of consultation in good time.

A Plan For Jobs

Looking ahead to the future, A Plan for Jobs is a government scheme which aims to support young people, who are believed to be the most vulnerable group for employment as a result of the pandemic by providing employment opportunities which should also support the UK with both short and long-term recovery.

Employers may be able to make use of initiatives under these schemes as they rebuild their business and workforce, including the Kickstart Scheme which gives employers a grant to create jobs, apprenticeships with the increased incentives for hiring apprentices available until 30 September and lastly traineeships which provides employers with £1,000 for providing work experience per trainee.