The available Government guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (which deals with furlough leave for eligible employees) was updated on 9 April 2020, just before the bank holiday weekend, and again this afternoon.
The link to the updated guidance is here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme.
Firstly, the date on which an employee has to have been on the employer’s payroll in order to qualify for the scheme has been changed from 28 February to 19 March 2020.
Secondly, the updated guidance contains an important clarification concerning employees absent through sickness and furlough leave – important not least because it is an issue that will arise for many employers but also because it contradicts the previous indications on this issue.
The guidance now makes it clear that whilst the furlough scheme is not intended to deal with short-term absences from work due to sickness, employers who wish to place employees who are absent through sickness (or indeed have self-isolated or are ‘shielding’) on furlough leave are free to do so.
The important point appears to be that someone’s absence through sickness etc. should not be a consideration in deciding whether to furlough them. Employees should be furloughed on the same basis as their counterparts who are able to attend work. To do otherwise risks claims of discrimination.
It also means there is nothing to prevent employees who have been absent long-term through sickness (and may in some instances be receiving generous company sick pay) being placed on furlough leave.
The final update is less official and has come to our attention via a ‘tweet’ issued by HMRC Customer Support. The ‘tweet’ in question stated that it is possible to take annual leave when on furlough leave, and it must be paid at full pay. This is a useful indication of the likely position although we should stress there has been no official guidance as yet on the subject of taking annual leave whilst on furlough leave. Our view is that entitlement to normal holiday pay will most likely be limited to the statutory minimum annual leave of 5.6 weeks.
If you would like more advice on any of the issues raised above or in our Coronavirus FAQs (read here), please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.