EMPLOYERS have been urged to consider alternatives to making staff redundant as the furlough scheme nears its end.

The chancellor’s coronavirus job retention scheme will taper out from August and come to an end on October 31 – fuelling fears of major job losses.

Deborah West, head of employment at Bournemouth law firm Steele Raymond, said employers were bound to at least consider other avenues than redundancies if they wanted to avoid unfair dismissal claims.

She said those alternatives could include:

  • Extending furlough beyond the end of the government October 31, by offering to fully fund reduced pay.
  • Offering reduced hours or more flexible working for the affected roles or departments.
  • Job sharing.
  • Business-wide pay cuts or freezes, or removal of bonuses or overtime.
  • Offering paid or unpaid sabbatical leave.

    Deborah West said: “There will always be some, particularly those with long service, who might be entitled to a reasonable sum on redundancy or who don’t rely upon their income for living costs, who would prefer to be made redundant.

“However, the enormity of the impact of Covid-19 upon many businesses means that employees are generally more likely to be willing to consider such options than might otherwise be the case, as they know that the likely alternative is mass redundancy, and possibly difficulty securing another job.

“There will also be employees who would prefer to have a break from work, or work less or more flexibly while they deal with family obligations such as caring for children who cannot attend school or other family members who might need to self-isolate until the pandemic is over.”

She said some contracts allowed employers to impose changes in terms and conditions. But that right must be be exercised in a “reasonable manner”.

The best way to secure any change was with the consent of the individuals or through agreement with a recognised trade union.

“Not only is this more straightforward, but persuading the employees of the need for the change and keeping them onside, is also likely to lead to a more loyal and productive workforce going forward, something that is going to be key in supporting the employer’s business through what are likely to be challenging conditions ahead,” she said.

To force through a change, the employer would have to terminate an existing contract and offer re-engagement on new terms, or would have to notify the employee of a date when the new terms would apply.