What is a ‘furloughed worker’?

23 March 2020

The term ‘furloughed worker’ is not a familiar term used in relation to employment law within the UK. However, the government’s announcement about new support measures in relation to the coronavirus outbreak has changed this, as everyone now wants to understand what a ‘furloughed worker’ is and what the implications will be.

‘Furloughed workers’ are common in the United States, and the term ‘furlough’ relates to the temporary leave of an employee/employees due to the special needs of a company or employer, attributable to the economic conditions at a specific employer, or in the economy as a whole.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced that if employers cannot cover staff costs due to COVID-19, they may have the option of accessing support to continue paying a portion of employee wages, in order to avoid the difficult situation of having to make redundancies. Support would be available through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. It is important to note that these payments are available where there would have otherwise been a redundancy situation.

In order to access the scheme, employers will need to discuss the need to reassess impacted employees as ‘furloughed workers’, and to have discussions with those affected. For employers, changing the status of an employee remains subject to existing employment law and contract dependant may be subject to negotiation. Employers will then be required to submit information relating to furloughed employees and their earnings to HMRC via a new online portal. This has not been set up yet but will be available in due course.

Employees should not complete any work for their employers throughout the time in which they are furloughed. This will enable employers to claim a grant of up to 80% of their wages for employee employment costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. Workers are still classed as being employed for the period in which they are furloughed, and employers could opt to fund the differences between the payment from the government and their salary, but there is no mandatory requirement for them to do so. Therefore, if employee pay is reduced as a result of these changes, they may be eligible for support through the welfare system, inclusive of Universal Credit.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is expected to run for a period of at least three months, from 1 March 2020, but it will be extended if necessary.


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