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Furlough warning: You may face ‘stigma’ when you head back to the office – why?

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Furlough support has been a key element of the Government’s coronavirus strategy and in early March, Rishi Sunak announced the scheme would be extended into September. As the Chancellor confirmed in his 2021 Budget: “The furlough scheme will be extended until the end of September.

“For employees, there will be no change to the terms – they will continue to receive 80 percent of their salary, for hours not worked, until the scheme ends.

“As businesses reopen, we’ll ask them to contribute alongside the taxpayer to the cost of paying their employees.

“Nothing will change until July, when we will ask for a small contribution of just 10 percent and 20 percent in August and September.

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“The Government is proud of the furlough – one of the most generous schemes in the world, effectively protecting millions of people’s jobs and incomes.”

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The results from the latest findings showed that 45 percent of UK businesses think that there will be recruitment discrimination against candidates who have been furloughed.

This rose to 54 percent when asking businesses that have benefitted from the scheme themselves, compared to those who haven’t (22 percent). Furlough discrimination appears to be a large concern for decision makers in the digital and finance space, with 62 percent agreeing that candidates will be advantaged if they haven’t been on furlough.

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Unfortunately, it’s also possible that women will be hit hardest by this discrimination, with 55 percent of respondents that claimed to have been on furlough were women.

Businesses were warned of this kind of discrimination last year, as employers were told that a fair process must be used when selecting employees for the scheme with reasons for each decision to be clearly stated.

Examples of indirect discrimination include selecting workers on the basis of caring commitments, a group in which women are significantly overrepresented.

Shilpen Savani, a Dispute Resolution and Employment Law partner at gunnercooke, commented on this: “Furlough discrimination is a real concern because employers made quick-fire selections without proper consideration and then many have disproportionately dismissed those who were already furloughed when going on to make redundancies.

“If this is now being held against the same candidates when they look for new employment it is a very unfair stigma indeed. This has hit women and working mums especially hard in my experience.”

Indeed, the same research showed 45 percent of overall UK business decision makers anticipating furlough discrimination in recruitment compares similarly to the 52 percent who agreed last year that furloughed staff are seen as more disposable and less valued than non-furloughed workers.

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In 2020, 48 percent of respondents agreed that furloughed workers may also experience slower job progression in the future.

Jane Hales, a Managing Partner Sapio Research, reflected on the results: “It feels as though furlough discrimination is the big next equality issue. There will be a whole new set of unconscious biases that businesses will need to be mindful of. The impact the two-tier situation has on employee engagement and productivity would be fascinating if it wasn’t so difficult to watch.”

Despite the furlough negativity, the results revealed many businesses do not feel their turnover will be impacted by the pandemic in 2021 and Rob Skinner, the founder and managing director at Skout PR, concluded on this: “While this uptick in confidence may be cause for celebration, the idea that furlough discrimination could become a phenomenon is a worrying thought.

“In instances when individuals have been put on furlough, it has been a reflection of the nature of the pandemic, not of the attributes of the individual. It is crucial for businesses to work hard to address the gender balance of their workplace, acknowledging that we should be applauding carers and working mothers, instead of penalising them.”

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