COVID-19 – Furlough Scheme Extended
In a recent update, the Government announced an extension to the furlough scheme to help with supporting businesses who have had to close their doors due to the Coronavirus lockdown and prevent redundancies being made. The extension will now see 80% of employees’ wages covered by the Government until the end of July, with plans now in place which see the scheme running until October. The terms of this extension state that employers will need to make contributions themselves, although the specificities of this requirement are still yet to be announced.
It was also announced that from August, furloughed employees will be able to return to work on a part-time basis, with the scheme continuing to provide support by paying the remainder of their salaries.
What is furlough?
The furlough scheme was implemented close to the start of the Coronavirus lockdown, and was put into place in order to protect jobs and give employers an alternative option to making their staff redundant.
The scheme (also known as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) sees up to 80% of an employee’s monthly income funded by the Government, to a maximum of £2,500 per month. Employers can then choose to cover the remaining 20% themselves so that their employees are not impacted, however this is not a legal requirement.
There are now approximately 7.5 million employees furloughed across the UK. You can find out more about the scheme here.
What changes have been announced with this update?
Following the recent announcement, several updates have been issued regarding the furlough scheme:
- From August, employers will be required to contribute towards the salaries of their furloughed staff until at least the end of October. The figures for employer contribution requirements are yet to be announced.
- Whilst the Government has remained firm on paying the “lion’s share” of the salaries of furloughed staff, there has been some speculation that the 80% coverage may be dropped to 60% at some stage. However, this figure is yet to be confirmed.
Do I have to return to work if my employer has asked me to?
Government policy is unmoving in stating that those who can still work from home should be allowed to do so. However, for those whose work cannot be carried out at home, employers may request that staff begin to make plans to return to the workplace. This being said, there remain to be some exceptions – not all sectors or businesses have been permitted to reopen as yet, so many employees are likely to remain on the furlough scheme for the time being. Businesses which must still remain closed include:
- Restaurants and cafes, although they may reopen to offer takeaway services
- Pubs, cinemas, theatres and night clubs
- Clothing and electronics stores
- Hair, beauty and nail salons
- Outdoor and indoor markets
- Libraries, community centres and youth centres
- Indoor and outdoor leisure facilities, including bowling alleys, gyms, arcades and soft play facilities
- Hotels, hostels, B&Bs, campsites and caravan parks
- Boarding houses for commercial or leisure use (although they may remain open for use by those who live in them permanently, those who are unable to return home, and critical workers who need to use them for work).
What should I do if I don’t feel safe to return to work yet?
Employers are required to put protective measures into place before asking their employees to return to the workplace in order to be compliant with new health and safety regulations and ensure that all employees can carry out their work safely, whilst preventing the spread of the virus.
Employees who are considered to be vulnerable to the virus should maintain social distance to the effect that zero social contact is made. If this is not possible due to the nature of work, an employer should make allowances for their vulnerable employee to continue to work from home (where possible), or apply to the furlough scheme on their behalf in order to ensure they can stay safe.
Can I ask to be furloughed?
Placing an employee onto the furlough scheme is a decision to be made at the discretion of the employer. Whilst an employee may make the request to be furloughed, the employer is not obligated to fulfil that request. An employee may also refuse to be furloughed, however this may mean they are then no longer protected from redundancy.
Can my employer make changes to my contract whilst I’m furloughed?
In short, no. Any changes your employer wishes to make to your contract will first need to be agreed to. If you’re unhappy with any changes they have suggested, you should ask your employer if you can refuse said changes and still be furloughed. If they decline, you should aim to seek further advice.
The dedicated team of HR and Employment Law experts at DRN are on hand to answer any questions or queries and provide sound, reliable advice on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, or any other aspects of Employment Law that you may have questions about. Click here to see our responses to some frequently asked questions, or contact the team today on 01282 433241.