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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

Is there a time limit on making an insurance claim?

All policies will impose a stringent obligation, often with time limits, for you to notify insurers of circumstances that may give rise to a potential claim under the policy and non-compliance may well negate your cover. If therefore you have potential cover under your policy you must make a precautionary notification to Insurers as soon as possible.

What criteria will HMRC use to assess applications for furlough from publicly funded organisations?

The government released further clarification on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme on 4 April. The wording referred to concerning public sector organisations and organisations receiving public funding remains the same.

The revised guidance does provide a helpful insight into how HMRC will deal with applications made to it for assistance under the scheme. It appears that there won’t be a particularly forensic approach adopted by HMRC. The guidance says you can furlough staff if you cannot maintain your current workforce because your operations have been severely affected by coronavirus.

It goes on to say that all employers are eligible to claim under the scheme and the government recognises different businesses/organisations will face different impacts from coronavirus. The need to demonstrate the impact of coronavirus on your business/organisation is not one of the criteria businesses/organisations are going to need to satisfy, so the government does not appear to intend to set a specific test to determine if a business/organisation is “severely impacted by coronavirus”. It is hoped that this should provide additional comfort to publicly funded organisations facing significant restrictions to their operations during the Covid-19 crisis.

How does salary sacrifice affect the Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?
  • Employee pensions contributions are often paid by way of salary sacrifice arrangements.
  • Use of such arrangements may reduce the amount of wage an employer can claim under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, as the reimbursement is calculated by reference to an employee’s actual pay as at 28 February 2020, hence post sacrifice pay.
  • Using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme does not in itself bring a salary sacrifice arrangement to an end, but where an employer wishes to maximise the amount of an employee’s pay that will be covered by the CJRS, the employer and employee(s) concerned may agree to terminate the salary sacrifice arrangement as part of furlough. HMRC has recently announced that the Covid-19 pandemic will be considered a “life event” (i.e. one of the permitted reasons to break a salary sacrifice arrangement mid-term), if the employment contract is updated accordingly.
Can employees volunteer if they have been furloughed?

Yes. The Government has confirmed that those on furlough will also be permitted to volunteer to help the NHS during the coronavirus outbreak without risking their pay.

Can I use flexible furlough to utilise an employee's holiday entitlement?

Employees are generally permitted to take holidays during furlough. However, Government guidance has been updated to state that “Employees should not be placed on furlough for a period simply because they are on holiday for that period.” If a period of furlough happens to coincide with an employee’s holiday then you should ensure that there are business grounds to support furlough being used in that instance so that it isn’t just being used as a means to fund holiday utilisation.