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Furlough leave: common questions answered

We’ve had a large number of questions regarding the government’s job retention scheme. Our Which? Legal team has answered some of the most common.

In March the government announced a scheme to ‘help employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus to retain their employees and protect the UK economy‘.

Employers can ‘furlough’ their staff and apply for a grant from the government to cover 80% of each person’s usual monthly wage, up to a max of £2,500 a month. 

The Scheme will close to new entrants from 30 June 2020 and is due to come to an end altogether in October 2020.

On 29 May, the Chancellor announced that:

A) From 1 July 2020 furloughed employees will be able to return to work on a part-time basis. Employees will be entitled to be paid in full for days worked. The employer can claim under the scheme for days not worked (subject to the relevant salary cap).

B) From 1 August 2020, employers will be required to pay the following contributions towards furloughed employees’ furlough pay:

August: the employer national insurance contributions and employer pension contributions on the furlough pay.

September: 10% of employees’ 80% furlough pay. Recoverable furlough pay will be capped at £2,187.50.

October: 20% of employees’ 80% furlough pay. Recoverable furlough pay will be capped at £1,875.

As furloughed employees can return to work on a part-time basis from 1 August, the new caps will be proportional to the hours not worked.

The Scheme applies to anyone who is furloughed “by reason of circumstances as a result of coronavirus or coronavirus disease”. An employer cannot apply for a grant if to do so would be “abusive or is otherwise contrary to the exceptional purpose” of the Scheme.

Guidance on the scheme is continually being updated, but the team here at Which? Legal has done its best to answer some of the most common questions we’ve seen so far.

Read all the latest COVID-19 news and advice on our dedicated hub

Who’s eligible for the furlough scheme?

Any employer within the UK will be able to claim, but they can only furlough staff that were on their PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020. This includes staff on ‘zero-hours’, fixed-term or temporary contracts.  

Anyone who “stopped working” on or after 28 February 2020 but before 19 March can be furloughed if they are re-engaged by their former employer. However, there is no obligation on their employer to do so.

People hired after 19 March 2020 cannot be furloughed. 

Both the employer and the individual must agree to them being furloughed in writing (e.g. an email).

The scheme does not apply to the self-employed – they may qualify for support under the Self-employment Income Support Scheme.

Can you ask to be furloughed?

Yes, but – ultimately – it is the employer’s decision as to which staff it furloughs. 

Can you still undertake work whilst you are furloughed?

You cannot do any work for any employer that has furloughed you, but you can undertake training.  

You can work for another employer (providing your contract of employment does not prevent you from doing so, or your employer consents). However, you cannot work for any business that is associated with or linked to your employer. 

You can do volunteer work, providing it is not for your employer. 

Can you be furloughed more than once?

Yes, multiple times, providing each furlough period lasts at least three weeks.

If you have jobs with different employers, you can be furloughed from one or both jobs.

Can you be furloughed if you’re off sick?

If you have not already been furloughed but you are off work and you are receiving SSP, you cannot be furloughed until that period of absence has ended. 

Only then can you be furloughed. The Guidance suggests that if someone becomes sick whilst on furlough it is up to their employer as to whether they keep them furloughed, or put them onto sick leave. 

Can your employer still make you redundant?

Yes it can – either whilst you are furloughed or afterwards. Being furloughed does not affect your normal redundancy rights. 

What are the alternatives to furlough leave?

Your employer could ask you to take a temporary (or permanent) pay cut and/or reduce your working hours.

Your employer could also ask you to stop working for a while (a ‘temporary lay-off’), or work fewer hours (‘short-time working’). However, they would need either your agreement or a contractual right to do so. 

The above information is provided by Which? Legal. Have you been placed on furlough leave? Do you feel you were given all the information you needed around the scheme?

Martin Cobley says:
19 May 2020

I am On furlough I have become unwell to do My job as of been a manual handling job, can my employer sack Me or as he’ puts it Lay-me off.

G davison says:
21 May 2020

My granddaughter has worked for the local pub on and and off for the last 2 years while she is at Uni.Maybe doing 3-4 shifts per week. The landlady says she has applied for her staff,mostly part-time,to be furloughed but HMRC says they are not eligible to be furloughed. Staff have been paying NHI and do appear to be on a payroll. But it seems a bit fishy. The landlady says she has been trying to get HMRC to explain why but they will not furlough. In the meantime none of the ‘furloughed’ staff mostly youngsters like my gdaughter have not received any money. The landlady will not give any detail. I think she’s really been paying cash in hand. What should my gdaughter do? the HMRC website says it cannot help.

Colin Revill says:
21 May 2020

My employer has based my furlough payments on my average pay for 2019. But I was on the sick for six months, so they have used sick pay for the calculations. Are they doing the right thing or should they use what I would have earned if not on the sick for there calculations

K Receveur says:
22 May 2020

What about any arrangements for fixed-term contract workers, such as maternity cover contracts, where they finish e.g 31 May, but the firm has a hiring freeze, so no renewal possible?

I have been told that I am not eligible for furlough, as the end of my contract is not-CV19 related, so as of 31 May, I am without any help.

Carole chrzanowski says:
26 May 2020

I have two separate contracts with my employer as I work two separate jobs for the company.can I be furloughed for one contract and still work the other

My son and his wife were put under the furlough scheme from 27/3/2020 to 27/4/2020 (4 Weeks). Their Employer stated they would be paid 80 per cent of their salary. In their April pay salary they did indeed receive the 80 per cent as agreed. However on returning back to work imagine their astonishment when they were informed by text that their employer would be paying them an extra 20 per cent for two weeks of the month they were on furlough but would take off them in the process two weeks annual holiday. Now the point is according to what I have gathered employees placed on furlough pay could not by definition be classified as being on holiday and would continue to accumulate their normal annual holidays. I would be grateful for any advice regarding this matter.

Jue says:
1 June 2020

I work 32 weeks a year, I am off now for the next 16 weeks, my wages are pro rata. I have had £600 a month took off me every month, to cover my wages when I am off.
My employers have furloughed me, even though I am not in work, can they do this even though I pay myself.

TennisMG says:
1 June 2020

I was working from home and then I was furloughed on the 22nd April.
On the 30th April I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and my operation took place on the 11th May.
From the 12th May the hospital gave me a sick note for two weeks, which ended on the 26th May and my consultant gave me another note until the end of June.

I was wondering how does this affect my pay? I was told by HR that I had to hand in my sick note, just in case I got called off furlough and back to work.
Will I still get furlough and the 20% from the employer or will I be put on the employers sick leave (at present, I will only get 2 months full pay and half pay then after as via their policy and service) and then SSP?

Thank you

Cerys Woolley says:
1 June 2020

I worked at a train station thought an employment agency. The agency have found out that the station probably won’t need us back. They’ve said because of that we aren’t furloughed anymore. Surely that can’t be right. I know it’s an agency but…

Lynne says:
3 June 2020

2 of my employees, 1 Latvian and 1 Romanian, were furloughed from 13 March until 18th of May when they decided they were going home to there respective countries during lockdown as they no longer wished to work for us. I gave them all monies owed in their last pay packet and gave them their P45. They were under the impression that we would still pay them furlough money until we started trading again, whilst they were living in their home countries. I disagree. We cannot pay them UK government money whilst they are overseas and unavailable for work but I can find nothing online about this. To me it’s common sense, they disagree. Any thoughts?