Open letter about Furlough

coronavirus furloughs

Open letter about furlough

I recently received an email from a few colleagues asking to close all the shops and take advantage of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. I share lots of their worries and I have carefully evaluated all the information publicly available. I understand that you might be confused about the situation and about the options available to you, as an employee. I will try to explain as much as I can here.

Why we are staying open

As a company we have chosen to be present for the local community, to keep running our services and providing food for the people that are self-isolating at home. We work so everybody else can stay at home and help contain the spread of the virus, as requested by our government. Please note that food production and distribution are considered key businesses. “This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery”. You are, at all effects, key workers.

I am proud of you all for the amazing job you are doing for the community. Your role is as important as the roles of other key workers like supermarket clerks, teachers, rubbish collection and many more. We are not so arrogant to level ourselves with NHS staff, but we must recognise that we are supporting our community and providing food to the neighbourhood. Please do not underestimate the importance of your role and how much you are needed by the community.

We have prepared three questionnaires asking both staff and public their opinion about the shops opening or closing. I am pleased to tell you that 81% of the staff voted for the shop to stay open and 76% of the public in Surrey Quays and 76% of the public in Mile End have asked us to not close. A full list of comments is available for your inspection here.

You know that we are not a large corporation, but just a small family-run enterprise. Awet and I are grateful to all, as every one of you has brought diversity and culture to the team and your impact has made a difference. We are not closing, and we understand and support you if your choice will be to leaving us.

Clarification on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Allow me to clarify that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been created by the government so that “employers will get support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.” The scheme is meant “to safeguard workers from being made redundant”. You can read all the details here and here.

I am sorry if you have been mistaken in thinking that the scheme was created for people that have a job so they could stay home and reduce the spread of the virus. This is not the case, as the measures implemented for the control of the virus are others, including social distancing and personal hygiene. Please read here.

About the safety of staff and public

We take our staff health and the health of the public very seriously. Since the very beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, we have taken the decision to follow the government directions, implementing every guideline immediately, following their instructions diligently and quickly. 

Regarding the safety of our staff, many measures have been put in place like we have introduced protective screens, we keep updating all sending out emails and links; we have detailed the ways to keep safe, we have reiterated the basic hygiene rules of washing hands and of not touching our own face. We have created physical social distancing barriers so that nobody can come dangerously close to the FOH staff and placed signs to instruct the public. This is consistent with the Chief Medical Officer’s advice. 

Regarding the safety of the public, we have issued written notices asking people to orderly queue outside the premises, to keep a 2 mt distance while waiting outside and that only one person at the time is allowed in the shop. Moreover, orders must be placed on the phone and not in the shop, so as to minimize the contact between customers and staff. Please read the government guideline regarding food premises carefully here. According to this paper, it is very unlikely that you can catch coronavirus from food. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. It is not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging. Any food handler who is unwell should not be at work. If they have symptoms, they should follow government advice and stay at home. As said before, this is any way our minimum standard of a food hygiene routine.

Why abusing the system is wrong

As, for the time being, we are not in need of closing the shop, nor we are thinking of laying any of our staff off, the actual closing of the shop for the only purpose of taking advantage of the government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, would be liable of being a fraud at the expense of the public funding. The government is being extremely clear that whoever will abuse the system, especially in this national crisis, will be severely persecuted. In particular, they said that “Government will retain the right to retrospectively audit all aspects of the scheme with scope to clay back fraudulent or erroneous claims”. As a company and as a person, I cannot allow this to happen, going it against our core values, of which I am very proud of. I am sure that you too will agree with me. The shop will not close, and therefore I have no right to requesting support for those people that chose not to work. 

As a token of our appreciation, we have allowed every one of you to take sick leave instead of unpaid leave. Even if this represents a huge cost to the company, we understand that you might want to stay at home in this difficult time, and you definitely should. This is consistent with the government guidelines as long as you send us a sick note stating the reasons why you are unable to work.

Why we must choose the greater good

As said before, we are not asking any of the staff to put themselves at risk. You have the freedom of choice and can stay home, safe and sound. Unfortunately, while you have several choices, others are not as fortunate. Some of your colleagues do not have other possibilities than work. Some new staff, that would not be eligible for the furlough, need to work. Without mentioning the risk we run as a business, should we not be able to meet our liabilities. We, as the good pater familias, must consider the greater good, the situation as a whole, rather than the individual need. For that, as an individual, we have given you the right of staying safe at home.

You must consider that the vast majority of your colleagues have expressed the desire of working. You also must accept the fact, that the government itself has declared that running a food business if done properly, as we are doing, does not represent a risk of infection. 

We are asking everyone to not impose a personal interest on other colleagues as this might generate unnecessary stress when they are all already overwhelmed. Asking them to choose between your friendship and their job, puts them in a very difficult position and is not commendable. Everyone has the right to opinion and speech as long as this is not undermining the company reputation or going against the company best interest, which will be considered gross misconduct and lead to disciplinary measures.

What are your options

You are presented with several options, that you can discuss with your manager:

  • Work and contribute to the operations
  • Use your annual leave and stay home
  • Take SSL and SSP and stay home (sick note needed)
  • Take unpaid leave and stay home 
  • Work in the kitchen instead of the FOH, so to reduce the contact with public.
  • Resign from your position and stay home.

Unfortunately, requesting to be placed in furlough is not an option. We are not laying anybody off and our business does not need to be closed.

What can you do if you disagree

We encourage all our staff to express their opinion and we welcome all point of view. We pride ourselves for our equality and diversity policy and we go above and beyond our duties regarding safeguarding. All our actions are backed by the government and you can present your disagreement to them directly.

  • For further support please visit here a list of extra information.
  • You can also contact ACAS and find out more about your rights as an employee.
  • Please navigate this link to find all the information you need about coronavirus.

By all means, if you do not share our company values of community support, job creation, financial independence and contribution to society, you must be true to yourself and your own values and leave the organization. We will support your decision fully as we believe that you are the most important person in your life.

Similarly, if your core values will go against the company operation and possibly damage our company reputation, we will ask you to leave, as stated in your contract, as you would not be able to carry out your duties in a professional and impartial way.

What we are doing to support the community and the nation

You will be happy to know that as a company we are registered for volunteering to support the government and the NHS and that both Awet and Pam are in the frontline to support people in need in their local communities. We hope that by leading by example, all the staff and neighbours will follow and contribute to society too. Safety is important and we won’t ask to sacrifice yourself for a higher purpose, but we want you to know that is possible to do it. A very important document is this explaining the importance of business continuity and community resilience. It might help to give you a better understanding of what all of us can do in a crisis situation. While many will simply stay idle, some others will choose to support actively. That’s what we chose to do. Every little help.

Kind regards
Pamela Tironi
The Pizza Room