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Acas North West Answers Questions About ‘Furlough’ And Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Article: ACAS North West

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been launched this week to protect the jobs of employees whose work has been stopped or prevented by Coronavirus. Employers can apply to receive Government funding to cover up to 80% of their employees’ wages during this period. 

Workplace experts, Acas are receiving unprecedented numbers of calls from employers and employees struggling to understand their rights. Acas Senior Adviser Susan Raftery told us that around a third of calls are about the new ‘furlough’ scheme. She also took time to answer some of our readers most common questions. 

Can I take leave while on furlough?

Absolutely. I spoke to the owner of a hairdressers last week who expects to be extremely busy once they reopen, but was concerned staff would need to use up their leave before starting back.

Staff can take leave while on furlough in the normal way. Employers just need to remember that when people are on leave, they should be paid 100% of normal pay, so they would have to top up the 80% received from the Government.

It gets a bit complicated when it comes to bank holidays: if you or your employees normally work bank holidays, then you should be paid at 80% of your pay under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. But if you don’t normally work bank holidays, your employer should either top up your pay to your usual holiday pay (by adding an extra 20% to make 100%), or give you a day of holiday in lieu.

Can I ask to be furloughed?

Lots of employees are reporting they are anxious about going into work, but their employer won’t furlough them. We have seen this a lot in the care sector and in food manufacturing.

If the employer has work for you, and has put in all the right measures to protect you appropriately, they can ask you to work.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have good, early conversations between employees and employers. If you are worried about your safety, talk to your employer or line manager. If your staff are reluctant to come into your work, listen to their concerns and see if you can address them. There are lots of adjustments you could make which could help.

Being considerate of everybody’s feelings and listening to them will save you a lot of grief later on.

There is no one else to look after my child – can I be furloughed to do this?

I had a call recently from a GP’s surgery – their receptionist can’t do her job from home, and has a small child to look after. In this instance, the doctors’ surgery can furlough her. Although this is ultimately a decision for the employer, I would strongly recommend that both employers and employees in this situation talk to each other to work out a solution. 

Can I work for someone else?

Yes, the scheme makes it clear that you can work for someone else if your contract allows it (but if your contract says that you can’t work in another job, it’s still worth checking with your employer as they may have a different view during the crisis).

I was discussing this with the owner of a children’s activity centre recently, which has temporarily closed. She was explaining one of her employees had asked to work temporarily in a supermarket. It is important that when you come off furlough, you need to be able to come back to work for your original employer. She was doing the right thing by letting her employer know she was considering applying for a temporary job while on furlough.

Should I be doing work for my employer while I am furloughed?

I had a long call with an employer who runs a gym and employs lots of personal trainers. His trainers were hoping to deliver remote sessions, training plans, social media advice and tips to their clients while on furlough. But the answer is very clear on this: your furloughed employees can neither generate income for you or deliver any services for you. This includes activity like updating websites, thinking about post-Covid marketing plans, etc.

Ultimately, this scheme is a tax-payer funded scheme aimed at protecting jobs and preventing redundancies. It would be unfair for organisations to make money from it, even indirectly through work that prepares the business for revenue generation.

Similarly, I have seen a lot of calls from employers asking about how they can use this time to make redundancies. Again, the scheme is designed to prevent redundancies and protect jobs, so we would urge employers to continue to use all current employment law and process on redundancies.

You can find lots of advice on the Acas website: www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

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