UK accountancy firms avoid furlough by offering sabbaticals

Companies across the UK have taken a series of precautionary measures to maintain employees and keep business afloat throughout COVID-19 health and safety measures

For accountancy firms these measures may soon include withholding profit payments to their partners and voluntary sabbaticals or significant pay cuts for their employees.

The measures are being considered in place of furloughing staff so that employees can still work in this period if they wish to.

Grant Thornton is the latest firm to ask its staff if they would be willing to take a voluntary sabbatical. This would mean that employees would receive 30 per cent of their salary until at least June this year.

As an alternative, it is also allowing employees to opt for a 40 per cent reduction in their hours and pay until the end of May.

The government’s furloughing grant will be considered by the firm on Friday after it has received response from the 4,500 workers it currently employs in the UK.

Richard Fox, employment partner at Kingsley Napley has called the Grant Thornton’s action a “sensible move.”

He said: “All firms have to be realistic about the current challenging environment and taking decisions early on might arguably save pain later. Not all businesses will find furloughing staff attractive, particularly if they want to make use of those employee's services.

“Many employers are considering a broader range of options and offering salary cuts for reduced hours or leave of absence arrangements for the forseeable period ahead are prudent alternatives.”

Elsewhere Deloitte is offering unpaid’ sabbaticals in an effort to avoid job cuts.

And Mazars has introduced unpaid leave for teams who currently have a lighter workload.

In a statement from Grant Thornton, a company spokesperson said: “The coronavirus pandemic means all businesses, including our firm, are operating in unprecedented and uncertain times. We know that this is a difficult time for many of our people, particularly those who have caring responsibilities.

“Therefore we have offered all our employees the opportunity to volunteer for a temporary reduction in their contractual hours or a short-term sabbatical.

"These are clearly exceptional times and these voluntary measures help us to support our people while also continuing to support our clients.”