Personal Law

Furlough: What are My Rights?

Estimated read time: 4 mins

Carrie Tennick, Updated, March 25, 2021

As part of its efforts to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, the government introduced a range of measures to protect people’s jobs during the crisis. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) allows employers to access governmental support to keep people employed. This is to prevent redundancies and lay offs, particularly in the hardest hit sectors, such as hospitality.

Included was the concept of furlough leave for employees whose companies couldn’t afford to keep them working.

A furloughed worker is someone who is still contracted to stay employed, but does not have any work to do. Ordinarily, furloughed workers are not paid but the government is currently covering part of their wages while COVID-19 affects the world.

At the beginning of the scheme, it meant the government paid 80% of their wages, up to £2,500 a month. This changed throughout the scheme in 2020, but has reverted back to the original terms.

In January 2021, 16.1% of the UK's workforce was on furlough, equating to 4.9 million people. This was down from a high of 28.8% in May 2020. In total, according to the government, "11.4 million jobs have been supported by the CJRS at various times".

So what are your rights if you find yourself furloughed form work?

When does furlough end?

During the third national lockdown in early 2021, the chancellor announced his Budget. In it, Rishi Sunak announced the government would extend the furlough scheme until September 2021.

The government will return to paying 80% of workers' wages up to £2,500 until July.

What does my employer have to pay?

From 1 August 2020, employers had to start making greater contributions to keeping furloughed workers employed. This took the form of employer National Insurance and pension contributions.

The rules changed on 1 September, when employers had to contribute 10% towards furloughed workers’ pay. From 1 October, this increased to 20%.

But as the scheme was extended in later lockdowns, it has returned to the way it operated in August, with employees receiving 80% of their wage with employers making contributions through National Insurance and pension contributions.

From July 2021, employers will have to contribute 10% of wages and 20% in August.

Can I ask to be furloughed?

Not everyone has the ability to work from home. This means that some companies will be considering whether they can afford to keep their workers employed.

You are able to request to be furloughed from work. You may wish to do so if you are anxious about contracting the virus in your workplace or you have children who aren't in school, for example.

But your employer is not obliged to accept your request. It's up to them to decide on your working status.

Could I be furloughed against my wishes?

As long as your employer had a good reason for choosing you to go on furlough over someone else, your employer is able to make the decision.

They should have ensured that any process involving furlough is fair and balanced. They should have consulted with you and your colleagues about the process and what would happen.

Initially, they should have asked for volunteers to be furloughed. If there were none – or not enough – your company should have carried out a thorough review of who was going to be chosen.

Can I work elsewhere while I am furloughed?

While you’re being furloughed, you are still technically employed. This means that you’ll have to adhere to the rules set out in your contract.

If it states that you cannot take on other work outside of your contract, then you won’t be able to accept another job without risking disciplinary action.

If you do want to take on other work while furloughed – whether it’s temporary, part-time or even permanent – you should contact your employer. They’ll be able to tell you whether that’s allowed under the terms of your contract.

What about redundancy after furlough?

The Office for Budget Responsibility has predicted that 2021 will see unemployment levels of around 2.2 million people. This has also raised questions about redundancy pay for workers who have been furloughed.

In response, the government has said that those workers who do lose their jobs will be eligible for redundancy pay based on their normal wages, rather than the rate they received while on furlough. How much this is will depend on your salary and age, as well as how long you’ve worked for your organisation.

But it is possible for companies to rehire employees it made redundant in order to furlough them – so you may want to ask your employer to do this. However, they are under no obligation to do so.

Even after months of lockdown and the furlough scheme being introduced, the situation regarding coronavirus and its impact on employment and the economy is still changing. This is leaving a lot of people in an uncertain situation.

Contact an Employment Law Solicitor

If you need some help at the moment, an employment lawyer could help to shed some light on your rights and what you are currently entitled to.

Get in touch to talk to our specialist solicitors by giving us a free call, requesting a call back or making an enquiry online.

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