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Furlough and work: ‘Can I refuse to go back part-time or to a different location?’

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With increased flexibility on the government’s furlough scheme, those due to return part-time or to a different location want to know what their options are.

From July there will be changes to the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme enabling companies who have furloughed workers to bring them back in part-time.

However, what if you want to go back full-time or you’ll be re-located to another area or office? spoke to Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at global employment law consultancy Peninsula, as part of our latest furlough Q&A series…

Q) I’m furloughed but have been asked to come in part-time. I want to work full-time hours. Can I refuse to go back part-time?

A) Decisions on furlough, and flexible furlough, are entirely at the employer’s discretion. While employees can ask that they are considered for furlough or a full-time return, employers are able to make their decisions as they see fit after making an assessment on what is best for their business provided they don’t make any discriminatory choices. In some cases, it will not be possible for employees to work full-time hours and all that can be offered is a part-time arrangement.

Q) I’m currently on furlough but will be going back to work soon. However, my boss said I will be placed in a different location to my usual office. This will be an inconvenience in terms of travel and I’m anxious about being in an unfamiliar environment. Can I refuse to go back to work?

A) It is common for employers to include a term in employee contracts that allows them to reasonably require employees to work from different locations so this would need to be checked. Feelings of anxiety about returning to work should be expressed to your employer who should look at ways to allay any fears. Unreasonable refusal to attend work could entitle your employer to take action against you, so it is important you talk to your employer to find a solution beneficial to both of you.

Q) I’ll be made redundant this summer but will be kept on furlough up until this point. However, I’ve been told my owed holiday must be taken during furlough, ahead of the redundancy. Is this correct?

A) Yes, employers can require employees to take their annual leave at times suitable for the employer. Guidance suggests that employers who want to enforce annual leave during furlough should consider whether any restrictions on the employee during the furlough period, including the need to socially distance and self-isolate, would mean that you cannot enjoy leisure time, which is the fundamental purpose of holiday.

However, the easing of lockdown restrictions may make it harder for you to argue that you cannot do what you would normally do during annual leave. What your employer must do is give a minimum amount of notice to require annual leave to be taken, which is twice the length of leave they wish to enforce.

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