Ask the Legal Expert was launched last year by Clapham & Collinge LLP in relation to topical employment law questions. This series of articles will help deal with various employment law topics and issues in general terms. Should you require any more specific assistance, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
The furlough scheme, also known as a the coronavirus job retention scheme, has been in place for almost a year since it began in March 2020 and with it has come a large amount of questions for employees placed on furlough leave. By December 2020, 9.9 million people had been furloughed with 1.2 million employers using the furlough scheme. The scheme has become bigger than ever anticipated for the UK and has helped saved millions of jobs throughout the pandemic. However, a scheme this size will inevitably have issues, some of which will be discussed below. This article will answer some common questions employees have on the furlough scheme.
I was placed on furlough without my consent. Can an employer do that?
Furlough leave is a variation of your employment contract. Usually, your employer cannot vary your employment contract without your consent. If they have done so, and you have objected to the change, this could be in breach of your employment contract. We would recommend in this circumstance you seek legal advice and take a copy of your employment contract with you.
My employer has furloughed me for my full working hours but is still expecting me to work. I have complied because I do not want to lose my job. Legally, is this right?
The simple answer is no. If you are furloughed for your full working hours then you should not be working for your employer in any capacity. You can volunteer or work elsewhere but working for your employer whilst they are claiming furlough payments from HMRC is likely to be fraud.
I have been on furlough leave but my employer has just informed me I might be made redundant. Can they do this?
The short answer is yes, this is possible. If there is a genuine redundancy situation, for example a business closure, then it may not be possible for your employer to keep you on furlough leave. If you are unsure and want further guidance, again we would recommend seeking legal advice.
I do not think I am being paid correctly under the furlough scheme. What can I do?
In this situation, your first step would be to speak to your employer. If you cannot reach a suitable conclusion just by speaking to your employer, you should seek legal advice on the situation. You may be eligible to bring a claim for unpaid wages.
I am on maternity leave but want to be furloughed as this is better pay. Can I request this?
Yes it is possible for this to happen. You would however need to give your employer 8 weeks' notice of your early return to work so that they are then able to furlough you. As the scheme is due to end on 30 April 2021, there may be little benefit to requesting this at this stage, unless the scheme is extended.
My employer has requested I return to work but I do not think it is safe. What are my options?
If you do not feel your workplace is safe, inform your employer immediately and do not go into the workplace. Your employer should try to work with you to resolve your concerns. If your employer tries to dismiss your concerns and discipline you for raising these concerns, you may be able to bring a claim against them in the Employment Tribunal. We always recommend you seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity when raising concerns in the workplace.
If you need further information or require legal advice on any of the points discussed above please contact our expert employment team today. Call 01603 693500 or email us using 'Make an enquiry' form on our website. We offer telephone and video appointments through various applications including FaceTime, WhatsApp and Zoom. Face-to-face meetings are available by appointment only at our Norwich, North Walsham and Sheringham offices.
*This article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice.