In the space of weeks, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the processes that we use to manage people at work.
The concept of furlough – a paid leave of absence for employees – has gone from being relatively little known in the UK, to being on the lips of HR professionals up and down the country, in the space of a fortnight.
Introduced as temporary measure part of the Chancellor’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, furlough leave is designed to reduce the cost of paying employee salaries and wages during the current crisis, helping companies to keep them employed.
Under the scheme, (which you can read more about in our complete guide to furlough), the government will give businesses a grant of up to 80% of an employee’s wage/salary (capped at £2,500 a month), if circumstances mean that they have to be furloughed.
It’s likely that many business will have to furlough employees at some point and one of the key parts of the process is the letter that you send to employees to get their agreement for the process.
Here’s our guide to how to write a furlough letter to employees with our own sample letter included, too.
What is a furlough letter?
A furlough letter is an official form of communication that you provide to an employee who you would like to place on furlough leave.
It’s sent to an employee when you want to furlough them to get their permission for the process, and it forms part of the evidence that you’ll use to make your furlough claim to the government.
It has a number of purposes:
1. To formally request that the employee take furlough leave
The most obvious purpose of the letter is to inform your employee that you have selected them to be placed on furlough and to ask for their formal permission to do so. You’ll normally provide this letter to your employee after you have had an informal chat with them, describing the situation, explaining what furlough is and outlining your request.
Under the terms of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, companies will need to ensure that any furloughed employees consent to the process and give their permission for it. Creating a physical letter which you give to your employee is probably one of the easiest ways to do this. It’s simple, efficient and allows you to generate evidence that you have followed the correct processes.
2. To provide more information about the specifics of furlough
As well as proving that you’re following employment law and allowing you to make a claim through the coronavirus job retention scheme, the humble letter provides a simple way that you can communicate the specific details of the furlough arrangements to your employees.
Furlough can be quite a complicated subject to get your head around. It’s made even more complicated by the fact that it technically doesn’t exist as a concept in UK employment law – it’s only been introduced as a temporary measure to save jobs in the current crisis.
It’s likely that your employees haven’t really come across the term that much either, so a general description of what furlough actually is and the specific measures that you’re taking will provide useful guidance to employees in what’s likely to be quite a stressful time for them anyway.
Most furlough letters will include information about:
- The date the letter was issued
- The reason for the furlough (in this case, a global pandemic)
- The start date of the furlough and an estimated end date
- Details about payment during the furlough
- Returning to work at the end of the furlough
- Confirmation of the agreement (the part that the employee signs to agree to the furlough)
Put simply, your furlough letter needs to explain the important parts of furlough and the changes that it will have on the employee’s daily routine.
3. To gain the employee’s agreement for the furlough
Furlough might be a recent addition to UK employment law, but laws about forcing an employee to change the terms of their contract against their will have existed for much longer.
You cannot force an employee on to furlough leave without their express consent – usually provided in the form of a signature agreeing to the terms. If you make an employee go on furlough against their will, they can potentially claim against your company for unfair dismissal.
Apart from obeying the law, asking an employee for permission to furlough them is just basic courtesy.
How to write a furlough letter
1. Gather all of the important information
Before you even flex your fingers over the keyboard, make sure that you all have the important information that you need. Details that you’ll need to gather ahead of writing the letter include:
- The date that the employee was spoken to about furlough
The date that they are receiving the letter
An explanation of furlough and how it works
The date that the proposed furlough will start and when you expect it to end
The wage/salary of the worker whilst they are furloughed
Payment arrangements whilst are on furlough
A point of contact for questions
Having all of the key information that you need to mention handy will make writing the letter so much easier.
After all, you don’t want to leave everything to the last minute and have to spend days trying to chase down Brenda from accounts who has the info, do you?
2. Create a rough structure (or consult a template)
With all of the key information to hand, it’s time to create a rough structure. A simple, but pretty effective structure looks something like this:
Introduction (include key dates that the employee was spoken to about furlough and who by)
Context of the furlough
Details of the furlough (dates, duration, payment details etc)
Summary of important details related to the furlough period
Confirmation of agreement
Obviously, creating an important communication like this from scratch is a pretty daunting task.
That’s where templates come in handy. We’ve come up with a template furlough letter that you can use and adapt for your own business. Just fill in the areas currently in square brackets with your own details.
Our template furlough letter is based on the ACAS furlough letter template, which was created by the UK government. We’ve tweaked it slightly to make it more employee-friendly.
3. Write it!
If you’re not using a template, the next step is to actually write the letter. That’s easier said than done, particularly if writing doesn’t come naturally to you.
It can help to focus on the purpose of the thing that you’re writing, and the audience that you’re writing for when you’re writing something for the first time. The type of language and the tone that you use will be influenced by these two things, above all else.
In this context, the purpose of the furlough letter is ultimately to request that the employee take furlough, to explain how it will work and to gain the employee’s agreement for the process. The audience that you’re writing for is your employee.
With the purpose and audience identified, we can then look at the tone we need to use. In this situation, adopting a professional, formal tone is the right approach. That means writing clearly and confidently, focusing on clarity and precision.
The document will be considered formal evidence that your company is abiding by the government furlough processes, so it obviously needs to be written to a professional standard.
Proofreading is essential when it comes to writing and working on official communications and it’s a natural way to bring a project to a close – even viruses do it when they’re replicating!
Reading through your work slowly once you’ve finished it will help you to catch silly mistakes and areas that might benefit from rephrasing.
Furlough letter template
Dear [name of employee/worker],
We are writing to request that you be placed on furlough, in response to the current coronavirus pandemic.
As you may know, the UK government has announced the ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ to help organisations avoid making redundancies or laying off staff without pay.
This scheme allows companies to place their staff on ‘furlough leave’ and access a grant to cover the cost of paying salaries and wages during the time they cannot trade as normal.
As previously discussed with [name of manager] on [date when furlough was formally discussed], the company would like you to be placed on furlough leave. This will start on [date] and we anticipate it to end on [date]. If the furlough period needs to be extended, we will discuss this with you. We will let you know by [telephone/email/letter] when you can return to work as normal.
During this time, you will still be employed by us but you will not need to work during the furlough period. You will have a lower rate of pay for this period. In line with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, we will pay 80% of your normal pay [include ‘up to a maximum of £2,500 per month’ if required] for the time that you are furloughed. We will expect you to be able to return to work immediately when the furlough end date has been finalised, unless otherwise agreed.
If you agree to being furloughed, your contract of employment will be temporarily varied. This means you will need to confirm your agreement to this in writing. You can do this by signing at the bottom of this letter, in the section headed ‘Confirmation of Agreement’, and returning it to us.
This temporary variation to your contract will come to an end on the date that you return to work, unless we agree otherwise or your contract of employment is terminated by you or us before then.
To summarise, this is how furlough will work:
While on furlough, we will pay you [amount per week/amount per month] based on your [monthly/weekly] [wage/salary]
This is [‘80% of your normal wage/salary’ OR ‘the maximum amount that can be claimed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’]
Your [wage/salary] will still receive tax and national insurance deductions in the usual way. We will pay employer national insurance contributions and automatic employer pension contributions on this too.
Your contract of employment will continue with [employer] but you will not do any work for us during the furlough period, as per the terms of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
While your statutory rights aren’t affected, your contractual entitlements to pay and other financial benefits during the furlough period will be limited to those in points 1 and 2 [if relevant, add: ‘plus the following additional benefits: list of benefits’].
If you agree to this temporary variation, please sign and date below and return a signed copy of the letter to [HR/Manager] by [insert date].
Please also confirm your current contact details so that we can keep you updated on the situation.
If you have any questions about your entitlement to annual leave or any other of your rights or entitlements during the period of furlough, please direct those questions to [HR/Manager].
[name of employer]
Confirmation of agreement
We agree that the contract of employment between [name of employee/worker and name of employer] will be temporarily varied and that [name of employee/worker] will be placed on furlough on the terms set out in this letter.
Signed: _________________ Date: _______________ (Employee/Worker)
Signed: _________________ Date: _______________ (Employer)
Employee/worker contact details:
We hope that you now feel confident enough to write your own furlough letter to your employees. Good luck!
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