Travolution Leaving Lockdown: End of furlough requires firms to realign staffing needs

HR specialist Stephanie Pote of MHA MacIntyre Hudson offered advice on employment challenges

Travel firms are facing having to reassess their human resource requirements as the country leaves lockdown and the furlough scheme is wound down.

Stephanie Pote, senior HR consultant at MHA MacIntyre Hudson, told the Travolution Leaving Lockdown event last week that travel is not homogenous so each firm will be different.

She said there are studies forecasting contrasting outcomes of the furlough scheme ending next month from the biggest job losses since the banking crisis of 2008 and a staffing shortage crisis.

But she said the truth will depend on the specific sector firms are in with less uncertainty for travel and tourism firms reliant on domestic business but ongoing uncertainty for overseas operators.

“When we talk about the travel industry it’s not a homogenous whole, it depends very much on where you business is and where you operate.

“As best you can you are going to need to look at as we come out of furlough are we going to need to realign the people we’ve got and the jobs we’ve got.

“It may well be we don’t need fewer people you just need different but you’re going to have to adapt in the same way as your business has adapted over the last 16 months.”

Pote said if firms are considering adapting to new ways of working long-term to flexible hybrid in-office and work from home models they will need to consult on new terms of employment.

“It depends, as with all these things, on a case-by-case basis, you may have had people on furlough, possibly people on flexi-furlough, people who’ve worked all the way through, who’ve worked at home or who’ve come into the workplace. There will be very different areas of concern.

“People who’ve not been in the workplace may have concerns about returning. The majority of people want to get back to some sort of normality, but there are people who have concerns and we need to take that into consideration and not dismiss the lightly.

“The employer needs to be making sure they’re making the workplace safe for people who are physically returning. The government may be lifting direct regulations, but you still have a duty of care under health and safety legislation.

“If you do get to the point of encouraging people back and there’s a bit of resistance the more you can show you’ve been a reasonable employer is going to encourage them and if you get someone unfortunately you have to let go that’s going to give you a good defence at a tribunal.”

Pote said she expects a lot of people being happy with a hybrid approach and so firms should put in a practical polices to enable that to happen to ensure the right people are in at the times you need them.

Employers can also accommodate irregular working hours rather than the usual 9a to 5pm, and that travel is probably already well used to that, she said.

“It’s about consultation, possibly renegotiating contracts, but doing what’s best for your business but also taking the views of your employers into account as well.”

Pote said using ‘fire and rehire’ to enforce new employment terms is a very risky and likely to be challenged legally if an employment tribunal is brought.