Furlough changes will help those affected by school closures
IN what has been welcome news for employers, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended until this April, and the guidance has also been updated to include a number of new factors.
For most families, one of the most important updates is that an employee is eligible to be furloughed if they are unable to work due to increased caring responsibilities as a result of Covid-19. This includes caring for children who are affected by school or childcare facility closures, as well as caring for vulnerable individuals in their household.
This addition will no doubt be welcomed by parents who are finding home-schooling and work a stressful juggling act especially for those with no childcare options at this time. Some may think they need to cut their hours due to their responsibilities at home, which financially might not be ideal for them.
It's important that employers continue to speak with their employees to find the best solution – particularly if they are working from home and communication might not be as frequent.
Another recent development is that employees may now be furloughed even if they were not registered previously under the earlier furlough scheme.
Employees working under any type of employment contract are eligible to be furloughed. This includes, but is not limited to, agency, flexible and zero-hour contracts. Foreign nationals are also eligible to be furloughed and employers can furlough employees working under all visa categories.
Different employment conditions may affect an employee's eligibility for furlough. For example:
•Employees on a fixed term contact can have their existing contract renewed or extended. They can also be placed on furlough, provided that they were employed on or before October 30 2020, and the employer made an RTI submission between March 2 and that date;
• Apprentices can also be placed on furlough in the same way as other employees. Apprentices can continue to train on furlough, however local guidance for changes in learning arrangements should be followed. These changes can be found at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-apprentices;
• Supply teachers are also eligible for the furlough scheme. Employers can continue to claim furlough for supply teachers over the school holiday periods as long as the original eligibility criteria, mentioned above, is met; and
• Employers that have consolidated their payroll and have added new employees to it are also able to avail of the furlough scheme. This applies where all employees, under multiple PAYE schemes are transferred into a new consolidated PAYE scheme. Employers should claim furlough on the new consolidated scheme, instead of the original multiple schemes.
Employers can claim furlough for any employees that worked their notice period up to and including November 30 last year. They cannot claim for any day after this. Should an employer make any redundancies, the employee's redundancy and notice pay should be based on their normal annual salary, not the furlough salary.
As a reminder, employees must agree to be furloughed as it involves a change to their contract of employment. Once an employer knows they can claim through the furlough scheme for their employees, they must discuss this matter with their staff and both parties must be in agreement before the employee is placed on furlough. A written record of this agreement must be kept for five years as well as a written record of the employee's hours worked, and hours placed on furlough.
:: Andrea McCann (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a partner at McKees (www.mckees-law.com) specialising in employment law.