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‘I’m about to be made redundant. Can I be furloughed instead?’

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02/06/2020
With the job retention scheme extended to the end of October, adviser Kate Palmer answers your latest furlough questions.

The UK’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended for four months until the end of October.

Employers can keep you on their payroll even if you can’t work because of coronavirus and for the time being, the government will pay 80% of your pay, up to a monthly maximum of £2,500.

But with plans to wind down the scheme and with workers continuing to be furloughed, you may have questions about what you can and can’t do during this time.

YourMoney.com spoke to Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at global employment law consultancy Peninsula, as part of our latest furlough Q&A series…

Redundancy

Q) I’m in redundancy talks with my employer. Can I ask to be furloughed until the end of October and therefore giving me 80% of my usual pay while I look for other jobs?

A) Yes. Although the Job Retention Scheme is designed as an alternative to redundancy during these challenging times, inevitably, some business will not be able to survive as they are.

Government guidance states that, when the scheme ends, employers will have to decide whether employees can return to work or whether redundancies will be needed. However, where employees are kept on furlough past the start of August, employers will have to begin to contribute to the wage costs following the Chancellor’s latest announcement about the continuation of the Scheme until October.

Work and pay

Q) My employer is topping up my furlough pay to 100% of my usual rate. Can they ask me to carry out some tasks for the company as they’re going ‘above and beyond’ the government’s 80% furlough pay rate?

A) No. The rules are clear that employees cannot do work for the employer or any associated employer during furlough and an employer’s choice to top up pay to 100% does not change this.

Regardless of the amount of money the employee receives during furlough, it is still the case that they are on furlough and so the prohibition on doing work still applies. Employers cannot use their generosity to adjust the rules of the scheme.

From 1 July, you’ll be able to go back to work part time for your employer. Your employer will be responsible for paying your salary for the hours you work and can furlough you for the remaining hours.

Jury service

Q) I was on jury duty before the courts were suspended. Now I’ve been furloughed. How does being on furlough affect jury service?

A) There’s currently no government guidance on this issue so the logical way to deal with jury service which falls during furlough may be to end the period of furlough for the duration of the jury service because it’s unclear whether continuing to claim for wages during this period, which would likely otherwise be unpaid, is permitted.

The employer and employee may then agree that furlough resumes when the employee’s duty has finished, provided the employer still has no work for them to do, and the employer may once again claim for the employee’s wages to the maximum limit under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Government guidance confirms that employees can be furloughed multiple times, so this stop-start approach can be adopted where appropriate.

Provided that the period of furlough before the jury service lasted for at least three consecutive weeks, the employer can claim for that period in addition to any post-jury service furlough of at least three consecutive weeks.

While we do not have detail on all types of claims to the Scheme that will be considered fraudulent by HMRC, employers should bear in mind that continuing to claim for wages for an employee on jury service may be one such example. Because of the level of employer queries on this point, it would undoubtedly be useful for the government to step in and clarify the rules in this area.

Related furlough guides: 

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