The time of choosing the ‘least worst option’…

20 March 2020

by Tom Sutherland

Like all Employment Law Solicitors, and like a very large number of employees and business owners alike, I’m royally fed up of the word ‘furlough’. A few weeks ago, it was a word I barely used and had to concentrate to spell. Nowadays, I can touch type it to perfection after typing it at least 1,000 times over the last 3 weeks… (I’ve done the maths, don’t worry – that is 10 times per working hour!)

The world has changed in so, so many ways since the start of March. Back then, most people simply went to work, came home and, the next working day, went to work. Times were simple. Now, we’re in a state where nearly half of UK businesses are believed to have furloughed of their staff and/or reduced their numbers to so-called skeleton crews. If February 2020 was a simpler time (with half of Merseyside awaiting Liverpool FC’s Premier League crowning), April 2020 is the time of the least worst option…

For employees, it is weighing up agreement to Furlough Pay of (at most) 80% of usual pay and, for most employers, it is a matter of poring over finances, making contingency plans in a situation where the potential length of coronavirus COVID-19 restrictions are completely unknown and considering that dreaded F-word (no, the one ending in ‘urlough’!)

Our Employment Team advises a large number of businesses, from SMEs upwards, and each has its own approach to surviving the current COVID-19 storm and each is weighing up the desire to keep its current staff after the main COVID-19 outbreak is over within each decision it makes. There are challenges on every front for directors, management and employees alike and, obviously, after at least 3 weeks of advising all our different employer clients on their options, this is by far the most sobering blog I’ve ever written.

But, ultimately, the world will return to normal. It will take time, it will change the world and there will be disruption. Some individuals may be mostly unaffected by the outbreak and adapt to the temporary increase to home time, particularly if placed on furlough, whilst many others may struggle healthwise due to the challenges of coping within a tenser housebound than usual. But things will change and, to use a popular phrase, things will ‘go back to normal’. The key question is what ‘normal’ will mean on the other side.

For once, an employment law blog from me without much employment law content. Instead, a heartfelt thanks to all affected employees and employers at this current time and my sincere well wishes and hope that everyone remains safe. Take care.

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