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Update on University's plans for furloughing

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The Vice-Chancellor spoke to colleagues last week as part of his summer briefings. He outlined the challenges we face as an institution and what steps we are taking to respond to or deal with these challenges. Questions at the session covered five broad themes – furloughing, plans for phased return, process for considering financial challenges, student recruitment and COVID-19’s impact on the next academic year.

In this first of the five updates covering the questions asked, University Secretary and Chief Strategy Officer Richard Messer provides an update on furloughing:

‘Furlough’ is probably a word few of us had heard of a few weeks ago but it is now in almost daily usage. Put simply, it just means an agreed temporary leave of absence from work. In the context of Covid-19, it is a mechanism that enables organisations to seek help from the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) for employees unable to work due to the lockdown restrictions. It also covers employees unable to work due to caring responsibilities and/or having to shield themselves.

The CJRS is open to any organisation (of any size), though the rules are quite complex and evolving. They do not neatly fit to partially publicly funded organisations like Universities and Reading along with the rest of the sector continue to clarify the rules with government. The CJRS provides employers access to a grant to cover 80% of wage costs, up to a total of £2500 per month. The scheme opened on 1 March 2020 and is currently due to run until 30 June 2020. As Robert explained last week, we are committed to making up the remaining 20% so that anyone who is furloughed continues to receive their fully salary.

Before I say anything more, I want to reiterate Robert’s assurance in his briefing – this is a temporary measure only and is not a reflection on the importance of a role or the performance of any individual. It is an immediate step that we, as an organisation, can take to respond to the financial challenges created by COVID-19 and colleagues who are furloughed are playing an important role in helping support the University’s financial sustainability.

We have worked with Heads of Schools and Functions to identify cases where furloughing could be considered, with a clear view that any furloughed roles should not impact our ongoing activities or place additional burden on other colleagues. We will continue to work with Heads of School and Function as the rules become clearer and as some colleagues move into a position where they are no longer able to work owing to lockdown restrictions.  HR Director John Brady has consulted with UCU and the Staff Forum separately to ensure that their feedback and suggestions are built into our request for CJRS support.

The financial pressures created by COVID-19 mean that is in all our interests that we now move quickly. A small group – comprising Chief Financial Officer Samantha Foley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Planning & Resources) Mark Fellowes, Legal Services Director Julie Rowe, John Brady and me – has reviewed all the recommendations made so far from Heads of Schools and Functions, and following UEB confirmation this morning, we are going ahead with furloughing of the first group.

Any furloughed colleagues will be contacted where possible by their line manager in the first instance and shortly thereafter receive a formal letter from HR. This will provide more detailed information about the arrangements. As mentioned earlier, those colleagues will continue to be paid at 100%, including pension contributions and other such benefits, and the terms and conditions of their employment remain unchanged. While it is very important that colleagues do not undertake any work at all for the University while they are furloughed, they can still continue with any volunteering. They will also have access to all of our staff welfare resources and can take advantage of training and development opportunities, for example through UoR Learn.

The scheme is currently open to the end of June, so unless the government extends the scheme further, colleagues will return from furlough no later than 1 July. We will let all colleagues know if the government extends the scheme further.

If you have any queries or concerns, please contact me, John Brady or your HR Partner.

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