Furlough explained: How long can a company furlough an employee?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ensures employees can still be paid up to 80 percent of their salary while they are able to work. The Government have said this scheme will cover up to £2,500 a month for three months, and that the period of time will be extended if necessary. In order for workers to access the funds, they must be classed as furloughed.

This means they have been asked to stop working because of the pandemic, but are still on the payroll.

A worker can only be classed as furloughed when their employer demonstrably cannot afford to cover wage costs.

The move came as thousands of people were let go when closures were first announced.


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How long can I be kept on furlough?

To qualify for the scheme, you should not do any work for your employer while you’re furloughed.

The scheme is set to initially run for a period of three months, which began on March 1, 2020, and is designed to prevent workers from being laid off.

But how long can you be kept on furlough? Express.co.uk spoke to the experts.

Jayne Harrison, Head of Employment Law at Richard Nelson LLP, said: “Employers can currently furlough their staff for the duration of the Job Retention scheme.

“This scheme started from March 1 and the Government has said it will last for at least 3 months.The Government has suggested that the scheme could be extended if they deem this necessary.

“Employers can furlough their staff for less than this 3 month period, with the only restriction from the Government being that the furlough period must last at least a minimum of 3 weeks.

“Employees can be furloughed, return to work, and then be furloughed again if this is necessary.”

Louise Lawrence, Partner at Winckworth Sherwood, added: “Furlough has to be for a minimum of three weeks. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“CJRS”) will be in place until May 31, 2020, so an employee could be furloughed until then and the scheme may in fact be extended.”

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Eversheds Sutherland lawyer Mark Hammerton said: “Our view is that it can apply, but this is not certain.

“Given what the Government is trying to achieve, it would be illogical to prevent employers accessing the scheme for those staff already temporarily laid off.”

All UK businesses are eligible and the Government have confirmed the period will be extended if deemed necessary.

Workers will remain employed while they’re on furlough, and your employer could choose to subsidise the remaining 20 percent of salary, but are under no legal obligation to do so.

To require employers to do so could completely defy the point of the scheme.

Mr Hammerton said: “For example, if a factory engages 500 staff, all on national minimum wages, the cost per month would exceed £100,000.”

If your salary is reduced as a result, you could be eligible for additional financial support through Universal Credit.

Workers will know if they’ve been furloughed as employers are required to inform staff members of any changes to employment status before it goes through.

In order to take up the scheme your employer is required to:

  • Designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers’, and notify your employees of this change – changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation
  • Submit information to HMRC about the employees who have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal

If you are a business owner in need of short-term financial support, you could be eligible for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme. 

Can I be furloughed if I’m a part-time worker?

In short, yes. Whether you are on a full-time, part-time, flexible, agency or zero-hours contract, all workers are eligible for the furlough scheme providing they were on the company’s PAYE payroll from 28 February 2020.

If you were made redundant by your employer since that date, you can still be eligible as long as you are hired again.

Workers could potentially work for another employer so long as it doesn’t break the rules of any contractual obligations.

Employees looking for extra work should only work outside of the hours they would normally work at their furloughed job.

An example of this is if a 9-5 worker was to take on extra employment in a supermarket on the weekends or run deliveries in the evenings.

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