Lessons in remote offboarding as furlough ends and “Great Resignation” takes hold
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Remote working
John van der Luit-Drummond is editor of International Employment Lawyer

This week the Spanish government reached a deal with unions and industry groups to extend the nation’s furlough programme until February 2022. The new deal represents the sixth extension to the scheme since Spain imposed its first lockdown in March 2020 and covers approximately 270,000 workers.

The move is in stark contrast to the situation in the UK where, despite calls by unions to extend the government lifeline for workers and businesses struggling with the impact of the pandemic, the nation’s furlough support scheme will end on 30 September.

Critics of the government’s decision to end furlough – considered the biggest peacetime state intervention in the labour market following its 18-month run and £70bn cost – argue the move will hamper the UK’s recovery from the pandemic and have a devastating impact on minority groups as a wave of redundancies sweep the country.

With nearly seven-in-ten employers (69%) expected to make redundancies within the next year, according to new research, those dire warnings appear accurate. Almost half of organisations (46%) responding to the Renovo study anticipate making redundancies within six months, while one-quarter (23%) expect redundancies within six-to-12 months. For employers expecting redundancies, more than eight-in-ten (84%) have workers on furlough.

If redundancies are inevitable, and with the “Great Resignation” picking up pace among millennials and Gen Z, employers would be wise to consider how to effectively offboard elements of their remote workforce without damaging brand reputation or bringing about expensive employment disputes.

“In the same way that employers have had to come up with new and thoughtful ways to onboard new staff during covid-times, they also need to create new procedures for offboarding,” says Laura Farnsworth, a partner at Lewis Silkin and head of rockhopper, the firm’s HR support service.

“By now, most businesses have established successful remote induction plans for new joiners, including training and team introductions held via video conferencing. However, perhaps understandably, employers tend not to put the same effort into ensuring a smooth offboarding process.”

Having a poorly managed exit can be damaging for the reputation of the business, both internal and external

While it is all too easy to inadvertently let a remote-working employee just drift away at the end of their notice period, Farnsworth argues that employers need to be careful not to fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” trap. 

“Having a poorly managed exit can be damaging for the reputation of the business, both internal and external,” she says. “Other members of staff notice how leavers are treated and it’s not uncommon for disgruntled leavers to share their experience with colleagues or on social media. This can be demoralising for other members of staff and might put prospective employees off applying for roles.”

Whether they are leaving as a result of a redundancy or resignation, the inconsistent treatment of former staff, such as arranging a collection or leaving drinks for some but not all outgoing workers, can even risk discrimination or victimisation claims from disgruntled leavers, Farnsworth warns.

As recently reported by Wired, remote workers are finding their last days of work a “scarring and depressing experience” and without the closure one would normally experience during their final hours in the office surrounded by friends and colleagues. In response, Farnsworth suggests employers put in place an offboarding process tailored specifically for remote workers.

“This could include inviting the leaver to a virtual meeting with HR to discuss their reasons for leaving, a meeting with the line manager to agree a plan for handing over work, being clear about when and how the employee’s IT access will be removed, agreeing an internal – and possibly external in some circumstances – announcement about the employee’s departure, and arranging, if it’s the company’s usual practice to do so, an online collection for a leaving gift, online message board, and virtual leaving presentation,” she suggests.

Of course, the practicalities of ending an employment relationship should not be overlooked. “It’s important to ensure any property belonging to the business is returned,” says Farnsworth. “Remote-working employees are likely to have several items of company-owned IT equipment at home and it’s usually safest and easiest to arrange a courier to collect them. They may also have confidential work-related files and paperwork. The employee should be asked to return these or arrange for them to be shredded.”

Likewise, it is important to remind the employee of any ongoing obligations they owe to the company after they leave; for example, their confidentiality and post-termination restrictions.

“It can be harder to monitor employees’ activity when they work from home, so putting them on garden leave during the notice period – if the company has the contractual right to do so – and removing their IT access can help to protect the business from competitive activity or breaches of confidentiality,” Farnsworth says. “Communication is key though – don’t just cut off their IT access with no explanation.”

In short, although contractual terminations are far from always amicable, the travails of the past 18 months should motivate employers to make every effort to support their outgoing staff as they move on to their next challenge.