Employees can be furloughed by their employer during this current lockdown. The furlough of employees is at the employer’s discretion so employers do not have to furlough employees if there is work available. Where the furlough of staff is proposed, employers should aim to be as fair as possible and non-discriminatory in their approach to deciding which staff could be affected. The current scheme (which started in November) runs until the end of April 2021.
As under the previous scheme, employees cannot undertake any work for their employer during the time that they are furloughed but they may attend training. Employees can also be required to attend disciplinary and grievance hearings and other meetings which are held in support of those processes.
Employers can furlough (subject to eligibility criteria):
- Employees who need to stay at home due to school or childcare facilities being closed
- Employees who are looking after a vulnerable adult in their household
- Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable following guidance from public health.
If employees have school age children to look after and cannot work from home then what choice does the parent have in not working? They cannot attend the workplace so furlough would be the sensible option. As a compromise, the employee could agree to ‘flexible furlough’ which allows them to work part time; or apply to take annual leave. Zurich Insurance has announced that they are giving 2 weeks extra paid leave to parents who need time off work to provide childcare which is a fantastic lead for other employers to follow. Other businesses of course cannot necessary afford to provide any additional leave.
During the last lockdown ‘support bubbles’ were not immediately available but this time around, those who live alone can join with another household for support. Some families with childcare challenges may be lucky enough to have someone living alone in their household bubble who might be able to assist them in supervising children. This could take the strain off some families and reduce the number of individuals who request a furlough arrangement.
If the employee was previously furloughed they would have been written to by their employer and indicated that they agreed to that arrangement. If the employee is being furloughed again they must receive another letter to confirm the dates of this current furlough. Paperwork supporting the furlough of employees must be kept by the employer for 5 years in case of inspection by the HMRC.
Those who self isolate are eligible for SSP from day one unless their employer chooses to pay them Company sick pay at the full rate. Some SSP payments can be reclaimed by the employer from the government.
Full details of the current furlough arrangements for employees can be found here : gov.uk furlough scheme rules