During these challenging times, we know that some companies are having to make the difficult decision to furlough employees. There are some things that employers need to consider around IT systems if faced with this situation.
We’ve put together a special message from our Chief Technology Officer, Will Tracz, explaining this topic.
The UK Government announced unprecedented support for businesses through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This support allows businesses to 'furlough’ employees.
Being furloughed means employees are kept on the payroll, even though they aren't working, with the government reimbursing some of the wage costs.
What does this mean?
Once an employee is placed on furlough they will not be able to work for you. They can undertake training or volunteer subject to public health guidance, as long as they’re not:
- Making money for their employer or a company linked or associated with their employer
- Providing services to their employer or a company linked or associated with their employer
What is the impact on your employees’ access to IT systems?
Once the decision to furlough staff has been made it is important to consider their ongoing IT access.
The temptation here is to enforce this with strict rules on systems and restricted access, and single sign-on systems are an easy place to do this.
As systems become ever more interconnected and interdependent, marking an employee as furloughed in one system can quickly have an impact on their access and accounts on dependent services.
For example, if you decide to restrict access to your identity gateway (like Microsoft Azure, Okta, etc.) to limit their ability to work, if you’re not careful it might then mean work email accounts are archived and benefits administration portals are cut off.
Things employees may wish to do when furloughed that require access to company systems
Being furloughed means an employee is not working, but they may still need access to company systems in order to:
- Access their benefits through the online portal
- Access their payslip
- Access learning systems
- Apply for annual leave in the future
- Notify their manager of a medical absence
- Access information about the EAP service
- Read company announcements that relate to them
- Find details for contacts
Also, your email or messaging system may be the best way for you to contact them, as furloughing is not a permanent process, and could be cut short or extended.
Managing the systems access of your furloughed employees
It’s hard enough for employees involved to receive the news of being furloughed, but they may want or need to access these services to update important information.
Finding they can no longer access these systems is only going to create further frustration at an already distressing time. Consider working with your IT team before making changes. Assess and identify the systems you should limit, remove, or block access to so that employees do not work, rather they only receive communications and gain updates and access as needed.
Can we contact employees to stay in touch?
Nothing we’ve seen in the guidance says you should not keep in touch with furloughed employees and many of these systems provide you with important communication tools to keep them updated and connected to your business. It is imperative that you support your employees during this time, they have done nothing wrong; you should focus on what should be stopped, not cutting everything off.
What about the medium- and long-term?
When the situation eventually returns to normal, having this relationship ready to be rebuilt is going to be key to restoring business success.
What is the impact on salary sacrifice schemes?
The guidance confirms that COVID-19 counts as a “life event” for the purposes of salary sacrifice schemes, meaning employees should still be able to make changes to their salary sacrifice arrangements.
The furloughed employee rules are defined around ensuring that they are not creating profit; not about cutting contact with the employee.
Employees still need access to read about their benefits, may wish to access information that is personal to them as their main email account could be their work account.
Your focus as an employer should be on:
- Making it clear that they should not be working
- Limiting access to systems which could only be for work purposes, e.g. project management, or customer relationship management tools.
- Ensuring they can access aspects which they need for personal connection, learning, volunteering, benefits and other non-work aspects
Record what you do, communicate this with your employees, explain the why and work with them as needed.