Training for success: making the most of furlough (while it lasts)


As the UK's gradual emergence from lockdown continues, employers are preparing for a return to something approaching normality. 

One issue employers are grappling with is how to reintegrate staff who have been furloughed.  By the time the furlough scheme ends on 30 September, some staff will have been away from work for more than a year.   While many will be keen to return, some may feel daunted by the prospect of returning after such a long absence.   At the same time, employers may be concerned about loss of skills during furlough, or may wonder how staff will reintegrate into a business model altered by the pandemic. 

It may be helpful for employers to take the same approach to furloughed staff as they would with employees who have been on maternity leave.  As the return to work date draws nearer, employers should discuss the return to work individually with staff, briefing them on changes to the workplace which have happened while they've been furloughed.  The flexible furlough scheme means that furloughed staff can return to work on a phased basis, to get up to speed with changes and get back into the right mindset. 

Employers should also take the opportunity to arrange training for furloughed staff.   Staff can be required to undertake training while furloughed, without breaching the terms of the scheme.  While skills training is an obvious option, other forms of training can help protect the business against legal and reputational risks:

  • Equality and diversity:  If an employee brings a discrimination/harassment claim in the Employment Tribunal, the employer may be able to avoid liability if it took all reasonably practicable steps to prevent the acts of discrimination occurring.  One essential step is anti-discrimination training.   A recent case found that training conducted 18 months before the alleged acts of discrimination was 'stale' and inadequate - so the employer's defence failed.   The case is a warning that equality training needs to be high quality and regularly refreshed. 
  • Anti-bribery and anti tax-evasion training:    It is a criminal offence for a business to fail to prevent its employees or associated persons from facilitating tax evasion.  Similarly, a business will commit a criminal offence if it fails to prevent its employees engaging in bribery under the Bribery Act.   In both cases, the business may have a defence if it has adequate procedures in place to prevent such conduct - including training staff on their legal obligations.  
  • Data protection:  Data breaches can have huge regulatory, legal and reputational consequences for businesses, so it's essential to ensure that staff who handle personal data understand the legal requirements for doing so.

Given that the furlough scheme will cover the bulk of payroll costs for the next few months, it makes sense for employers to ensure staff training on these topics is up-to-date now.  

We regularly provide bespoke training on these topics and many others to our clients - please contact our team if you would like to discuss a tailored training session for your staff.    

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