Coronavirus: What does it mean if I’ve been furloughed by work?

A woman looking anxious at work

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Until recently, many people in the UK had never heard of furlough.

But the impact of coronavirus on the economy means that over the next few months millions of workers will rely on the scheme.

Questions directed at Chancellor Rishi Sunak have been asked on social media under the hashtag #AskRishi.

Many people have complained the scheme does not extend to those who had already signed a contract or switched jobs after the 28 February cut-off date.

What is furlough?

Furloughing is designed to support firms that have been badly hit by coronavirus, and to prevent mass unemployment. It will temporarily help pay the wages of people who can’t do their jobs, to help companies retain them.

Being furloughed means employees are kept on the payroll, even though they aren’t working.

Businesses can claim 80% of their employees’ wages from the government, up to a maximum of £2,500 per person, per month before tax. The company can top up this pay if it chooses. It must write to affected employees to let them know they have been furloughed.

The scheme will operate for at least three months from 1 March, although reimbursements to companies will not start until at least the end of April.

Which companies are furloughing workers?

Coronavirus restrictions mean the work of many firms has come to a standstill. Pubs, restaurants, cafes, travel firms and estate agents are among those hit.

Last week, a YouGov poll suggested one in 20 workers had already lost a job because of the outbreak.

While the Treasury expected about one in 10 private firms to use the scheme, 44% polled have indicated they will place at least half of their staff on furlough.

British Airways is about to furlough 36,000 staff, or 80% of its workforce, following the likes of EasyJet, which has already furloughed just under half its employees.

Meanwhile, Premier League football clubs are to ask players to take a 30% pay cut in order to protect jobs.

The move came after some politicians condemned some Premier League clubs for opting to furlough non-playing staff, who are paid a fraction of leading players’ wages.

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Newcastle United was one of the first clubs to announce it would furlough staff

Can I be put on furlough?

Potentially yes, if your company can’t give you work to do because of the coronavirus outbreak.

You need to have been on the payroll of the company since at least 28 February 2020 and can be full time, part time, or on a flexible, zero-hour or agency contract. The minimum amount of time you can be furloughed for is three weeks.

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British Airways and EasyJet are among firms that will furlough a significant proportion of staff

If you have been made redundant since 28 February, your former employer can choose to rehire you under the furlough scheme. But employees hired for the first time after that date are not eligible for it.

Any UK organisation with employees can apply, but in practice it will mainly be private sector businesses and charities that make a claim.

Most public sector organisations will be providing essential public services or helping with the response to the outbreak in a different way, the government says.

Will I still get sick pay and a bonus?

Anyone placed on furlough has the same employment rights as before. If you are ill you are eligible for statutory sick pay and can be placed on furlough when you recover.

If you are shielding because of health concerns you are also eligible for furlough. Staff on maternity, paternity, adoption or shared parental leave will continue to receive statutory pay from the government.

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The government will only cover up to 80% of a worker’s core salary. So, that doesn’t include any bonus or commission payments. It will also cover the minimum automatic enrolment pension contributions made by your employer, and their National Insurance contributions.

If your wages differ from month to month, your company should base your salary either on what you earned in the same month the year before, or on your average monthly earnings from the 2019-20 tax year, whichever is higher.

Employers do not have to top up salaries that no longer reach the minimum wage.

Can I work or volunteer if I’ve been furloughed?

You can’t do any work for your employer if you have been furloughed.

If you have more than one employer, you can receive furlough from any of them, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month per employer.

You can also continue working for any that still need you. In theory you could do work for a new employer, provided you were not breaching any existing contracts or the coronavirus restrictions.

You can volunteer to help with the efforts to curb the virus – and are being encouraged to do so. You can also volunteer for your company as long as you aren’t creating revenue for them or providing a service.

Of course, many firms haven’t furloughed staff but have asked them to work reduced hours for reduced pay, which they will have to fund as normal.

Is my job guaranteed when furlough ends?

Companies are under no obligation to keep on any employees when they stop receiving furlough payments.

The scheme will run until at least the end of May and the government has indicated it will be extended beyond that if necessary.

The hope is that by the time furlough ends, restrictions will have been lifted and businesses will be able to stand on their own two feet and start paying full salaries again.

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