Until recently I had not heard of the word but of course we are all now fairly well conversant with it.  The term refers to the laying off of staff in accordance with the Governments Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is a grant for wages that is available to employers for the period of 1st March to 30th June 2020.  Companies can claim for furloughed employees who were on the PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020 and which were notified to HMRC on an RTI submission on or before 19 March 2020.

The rules of the scheme specifically state that an employee must be on furlough leave for a minimum of three weeks and they cannot undertake work for, or on behalf, of the company or any linked or associated organisation during this time.  This includes providing services or generating revenue.

It is OK to keep in touch with employees on a regular basis from a welfare perspective and to provide any updates, for example on when a return to work may be expected.

Clearly business owners and Directors are working hard at the minute to ensure that they come out of the other side of this situation so that there is a pipeline of work for their staff to come back to. Keeping in touch with customers to maintain relationships and to gain an insight into their plans is an important activity, as will be accounts functions to maintain systems and operate payroll etc.

It is possible to furlough staff on more than one occasion, as long as each occasion is for that minimum period of 3 weeks. So if there is some essential work that needs to be done or scheduled, e.g. payroll or marketing, then selected staff can return to work to complete these tasks and then be furloughed again for a further period. Alternatively the employer can allocate any critical business tasks to any staff who are not furloughed.

The HMRC portal opened on Monday 20th April 2020 and there were a few reported initial blips in the system, but as at midnight that day 185,000 companies had submitted claims, 1.3 million people were reported as having been furloughed, and the grants claimed totalled £1.5 billion.
Let’s hope we can all get back to normal soon. Helen (Helen McDougall HR Consultancy and Training).


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