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What are the limitations of furloughing staff for publicly funded organisations?

The guidance from the Government concerning private sector organisations is very different from the guidance for public sector and organisations that receive public funding. The guidance states:

“The government expects that the scheme will not be used by many public sector organisations, as the majority of public sector employees are continuing to provide essential public services or contribute to the response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion – and correspondingly not furlough them. This also applies to non-public sector employers who receive public funding for staff costs. Organisations who are receiving public funding specifically to provide services necessary to respond to Covid-19 are not expected to furlough staff.”

This guidance isn’t particularly clear but it appears that there is a recognition that there are different types of organisations which could be caught by this:

  1. Organisations who will be required to provide frontline services during the Covid-19 response. It is interpreted that NHS organisations such as NHS Trusts will fall firmly into this category. Employees of such organisations are expected not to be furloughed and to continue to work and be paid their normal salary in the usual way.
  2. Organisations who receive public funding to provide services to respond to the Covid-19 crisis. These organisations are not expected to furlough their staff. The type of organisation that would fit into this category are those that have been commissioned to developing breathing apparatus or testing kits to meet the needs of the healthcare sector during the peak of the pandemic.
  3. Organisations who receive public funds for staff costs to operate services. Employers are expected to continue to pay staff if the money to pay them is publicly funded. It is strongly inferred that this is irrespective of whether such staff have any work to perform. The type of organisation that is likely to fall into this category are GP practices, charities and private sector companies that have won contracts with the public sector.

Related FAQs

How much notice do I need to give people to return to work?

There is no minimum period of notice you are required to give employees of their return, but from a good HR practice point of view you should be speaking to your staff and letting them know what the plan is; giving people a reasonable amount of notice of return will allow them to prepare both practically and psychologically.

Who do the Procurement Policy Notes (PPN) apply to?

All three of the PPNs are effective immediately and apply to the following Contracting Authorities:

  • Central Government Departments
  • Executive agencies
  • Non-departmental public bodies
  • Local authorities
  • NHS bodies
  • The wider public sector

In regards to PPN03/20, those in scope organisations that do not currently use procurement cards are advised to immediately put in place arrangements using the relevant Crown Commercial Service Agreement (Lot 2 of RM3828 Payment Solutions).

Who do you have to inform and consult?

The duty is to inform and consult appropriate representatives of the “affected employees”.

Note that the term “affected employees” means those who may be “affected by the proposed dismissals or who may be affected by measures taken in connection with those dismissals”. The term extends beyond those immediately at risk of dismissal to include those affected by measures associated with the redundancies.

“Appropriate representatives” can be:

  • The Trade Union (if recognised)
  • (For any roles not covered by collective recognition) any existing standing body of elected or appointed employee representatives (if already in place)
  • Employee representatives, who are elected specifically for redundancy consultation
What happens if someone is asked to restrict their duties but, despite acknowledging the risks to their health involved, they say that they want to continue to work on the front line?

As their employer, you have an overriding duty to provide a safe system of work. The Trust would not be able to run a defence to say that an employee “waived their rights” and chose to continue to work. Provided the decision around restricting duties has been carefully thought out, a full risk assessment undertaken and the employee has been truly consulted about the impact on them, then the decision taken will be a reasonable management instruction. Failing to follow that reasonable management instruction could amount to a disciplinary offence.

Will funding audits continue during the coronavirus pandemic?

Funding audits are being paused and no new audits will be commenced during the lockdown period.