#PandemicAndBeyond - Dilemma 1: a sticky situation

10 September 2020

Tags: Pandemic and Beyond

In the first dilemma of our Pandemic and Beyond series, we consider what to do when a colleague has been furloughed.

Joseph has been employed at Smith's Adhesives, a relatively small-scale glue manufacturer, for 20 years. The firm has eight staff, of whom two, Joseph and his colleague Jane, operate the machinery used in adhesive production. Jane has been at the company for a much shorter period of time than Joseph, but she has learned quickly from Joseph and they have a good working relationship.

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, orders dried up and the manufacturer started experiencing financial difficulties. It was decided that one of the two would need to be furloughed to keep the business afloat during this period of increased financial strain. Although Joseph is by far the more experienced of the two, he only has himself to support financially even though his income is higher. He is also much older and therefore much more worried about catching the virus. Jane, on the other hand, has a young family who depend on her income, and is relatively young, healthy and less likely to be vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus were she to catch it. This being the case, it was agreed by the two colleagues and the firm's managing director, Izzy, that furloughing Joseph while Jane continued to work was the best solution for everybody. 

A few weeks after Joseph was furloughed, one of the machines on the shop floor is due for its annual deep clean and replacement of time-limited components. Jane hasn't had to carry out this task before, and she's not very confident about her ability to do so for the first time on her own, risking damage to expensive equipment. She explains the situation to Izzy, who knows that Joseph can get this task done in an hour or two at most. Jane will need to closely study the manual and maybe need to ask the manufacturer some questions over the phone before she attempts the maintenance for the first time, meaning the task is likely to take her a great deal more time and effort than it would for Joseph. Izzy phones Joseph, asking if he would mind coming into work on this occasion. He understands full well that it's important that it's done right; damage to the equipment is expensive and will cause delays to orders, which is especially undesirable given the reduced custom the firm has been getting. 

What should Joseph do?

(a) Go into work just this once and help out his colleague - what harm can it really do?
(b) Offer to talk with his colleague over the phone to explain what she needs to know so she can complete the task, talking her through each step. 
(c) Apologise and refuse, citing the rules of the furlough scheme which prevent him from carrying out any work, but tell Izzy that she can call the machine's manufacturer, who will send an employee to carry out the maintenance for an expensive one-off fee.