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How does Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme operate?

  • Certain workers will become “furloughed workers”.
  • Furloughed workers cannot carry out any work for their employer while designated as furloughed, or a linked or associated organisation but they can do voluntary work as long as they are not providing services for or generating revenue for the employer or a linked or associated organisation.
  • A furloughed worker can be furloughed part time and work the rest of the time.
  • The furlough period begins when the employee stops work, not when agreement is reached.
  • If furloughed employees are expected to do online training while furloughed they must receive the National Living Wage/National Minimum Wage for the time spent training.
  • Workers must be told of and agree to this change in writing. This written agreement must be kept for five years as part of the scheme. The guidance has confirmed that collective agreement reached between an employer and a trade union on furloughing staff is acceptable for the purposes of making a claim under the scheme.
  • However it should also be noted that this is a change in status and pay (if pay is not being topped up) and therefore subject to the usual employment law rules on changing terms and conditions.
  • Changes to the contract must be made by agreement with the worker and the government guidance is clear that to be eligible for the subsidy employers must document their communication with the employee on being furloughed.
  • You must confirm in writing that an employee has been furloughed, but that the employee does not need to provide a written response. Please note that this is for the purposes of making a claim under the scheme. Any reduction in pay must be agreed in writing under normal employment law principles and failure to do so may result in Employment Tribunal claims. You should not rely on a term in the employment contract to effect this change. We can advise you on how to document this properly.
  • Employers must also keep a record of the agreement for at least 5 years.
  • If employers have collective bargaining arrangements in place, they must agree this change with the union in the usual way.
  • Collective consultation obligations may be triggered if there are 20 or more employees that are proposed to be dismissed and re-engaged in order to effect the change to terms to be furloughed. You should take advice if you think this may apply.

Related FAQs

Can those on sick leave or who have been advised to self-isolate be furloughed?

If an employee is self-isolating (as a result of the pandemic) they may be entitled to SSP. Employers should not furlough employees in this category just because of their absence, but they can furlough if there are genuine business reasons for doing so and other eligibility requirements are met. In these cases the employees should no longer receive sick pay and they would be classified as furloughed.

The guidance has specified that those on long term sick leave or who are ‘shielding’ for 12 weeks in line with public health guidance can also be furloughed. But it is important that you clarify that they do fall in the category of extremely vulnerable (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19). It is up to employers to decide whether to furlough employees who are shielding or on long-term sick leave.

You can claim from the CJRS and also for the two week SSP rebate scheme (see below) for the same employee but not for the same period of time. Therefore if you have a furloughed employee who becomes ill and you subsequently move them to SSP you cannot claim the furlough rate of pay. If you keep the employee on the furloughed rate you can continue to claim this under CJRS.

What are the responsibilities of employers under the coronavirus Test and Trace scheme?

The Government has produced workplace guidance for employers, setting out 2 key messages for employers:

  • Continue to make workplaces as safe as possible; and
  • Encourage workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and to support them while they are require to isolate

Government guidance can be accessed here: How it works (an overview) and Workplace guidance for employers.

If an employee refuses to wear a face mask at work, can I discipline or dismiss them?

In appropriate cases, disciplinary action and then dismissal may be fair if an employee refuses to wear a face covering in the workplace. For example, if this is in breach of the government guidance or if  employer has issued a reasonable management instruction to this effect due to an identified health and safety risk.

It is important that employers use a fair and reasonable procedure when deciding whether to discipline and/or dismiss an employee and that its actions does not unlawfully discriminate against employees who have legitimate reasons for not wearing masks, such as those individuals who have health conditions like asthma.

How the furlough scheme changed from 1 July – what is flexible furlough?

From 1 July 2020 the furlough scheme has been operating more flexibly.

The key changes from 1 July 2020 were:

  • All furloughed employees are subject to the new flexible furlough rules and the new basis for calculating claims
  • Furloughed employees can be brought back to work on a part-time basis for any amount of time and can work any work pattern
  • Employers can claim for the hours not worked compared the hours the person would normally have worked in that period
  • There must be a new written furlough agreement in place to record the agreement with the furloughed employee to return to work part-time
  • The new agreement (including a collective agreement) must be made before any period of flexible furlough begins but it may be varied at a later stage if necessary. The agreement must be incorporated into the employee’s contract of employment, either expressly or impliedly
  • Employers must keep a record of this agreement until at least 30 June 2025, and they must also keep a record of the hours the furlough employee worked and the hours that they were furloughed
  • Employees can be furloughed from 1 July 2020 for any amount of time and more than once
  • However, if you re-furloughed an employee after 10 June but before 1 July 2020, they had to be furloughed for an initial period of three consecutive weeks
  • Claims for payments under the scheme must not cross calendar months so if you are claiming for the initial three week period of a re-furloughed employee who was furloughed on 12 June for example, you must submit separate claims for the dates in June and July
  • Although flexible furlough agreements can last any length of time, you should only submit a claim to HMRC once a week.
How is the Pensions Regulator reacting to the crisis?
  • The Pensions Regulator has published regularly-updated guidance for employers.
  • It will take “a proportionate and risk-based approach towards enforcement decisions … with the aim of supporting both employers and savers”. In other words, the law remains the same, but the Regulator will show restraint in enforcement against breaches.