On 20 March 2020, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an unprecedented package of measures, including a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). This note summarises the grant which is available to all UK employers and is based on detailed guidance that was published on 26 March and updated up to and including 16 June 2020.
From 1 July until 31 October 2020 a new version of the CJRS will operate.
The note has also been updated to take into account the Treasury’s directions to HMRC on 15 April 2020 and 20 May 2020 and the Government’s separate guidance on taking holidays during a furlough period.
Eligibility: UK employees (1) paid by a UK employer, (2) who were on the payroll as at 19 March 2020, (3) who have a HMRC online RTI PAYE record submitted for them on or before 19 March 2020, (4) who have been asked to stop working but who remain in employment for either all or, from 1 July 2020, some of their normal working time; and (5) who have completed a qualifying 3-week period of furlough between 1 March 2002 and 30 June 2020. See Q12 below for special rules for employees who left employment and have been reinstated, including those who were on payroll as at the previous eligibility date of 28 February 2020, but left after then.
Amount: Up to 31 July 2020, HMRC will reimburse (1) 80%* of wages up to £2,500 per month; plus (2) associated employers’ national insurance and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions. This means that the grant maxes out for employees with a base salary of £37,500.
From 1 August 2020 the reimbursement rules will change monthly (see Q3 below). Reimbursements will cease from 31 October 2020.
Period: The original scheme runs from 1 March to the end of June 2020, for a minimum furlough period of 3 weeks at a time. On 12 May 2020 the scheme was extended to 31 Ocotber 2020. The scheme closed to new entrants after 30 June, and any new furloughed employees must have been furloughed on or before 10 June 2020.
From 31 October 2020, employers may be eligible for a £1,000 job retention bonus if they continue to employ furloughed staff through January 2021 (see Q40 below).
Process: To claim the grant employers will need to:
Top up: Employers do not have to top up payments to 100% of wages to qualify for the grant.
Documentation: To qualify for the scheme, there must be “written agreement” between the employer and the employee for the employee to be furloughed. From 1 July 2020, if an employee is being flexibly furloughed, a further “written agreement” is needed. There are new record-keeping requirements for employees placed on flexible furlough (see below, Q31).
What constitutes “written agreement” for the purposes of the scheme, is broader than one might ordinarily expect (see Q30 below). Where furlough is an alternative to redundancy, we expect that consent will readily be provided.
We set out on the following pages answers to some frequently asked questions. We highlight *IN BOLD* where the answers have substantively changed since our last FAQs. We can provide a specimen furlough letter on request.
The position differs for furlough up to and including 30 June 2020, and on or after 1 July 2020.
Up to and including 30 June 2020
No, with very limited exceptions. The guidance states that employees cannot do any work that makes money for your organisation or provides services for your organisation (or for any linked organisation).
A furloughed employee can take part in volunteer work or an approved form of study or training (see below) for their work. Employee representatives (union or non-union) can also undertake duties in relation to a collective consultation exercise if relevant.
An approved form of study or training is any study or training intended to improve the employee’s effectiveness in the business, or the performance of the business, and which does not:
If workers are required to complete online training courses whilst they are furloughed, then they must be paid at least the minimum wage for the time spent training, even if this is more than the 80% of their wage that will be subsidised.
Although the guidance does not expressly deal with it, we do not see any likely issue with an employee logging-on to check HR emails or attending calls with HR by way of “keeping in touch” with the business whilst they are on furlough but employees should not perform any substantive work. Similarly, there should be no objection to taking the occasional short call from colleagues to ensure continuity of work being undertaken by others. Employers should make this clear when placing employees on furlough.
After 1 July 2020
After 1 July 2020 employers will be able to bring back furloughed employees to work part-time. Employers have considerable flexibility to decide how to structure flexible furlough. Employers will still be able to “fully” furlough employees after 1 July – i.e. where the employee does no work for the employer, as set out above – subject to the eligibility criteria being met.
During periods where the flexibly furloughed employee is working, they are able to work as normal. During time where they are furloughed, they are subject to the usual restrictions set out above preventing work during furlough.
Employers will need to calculate the “usual hours” for employees on flexible furlough (see Q5 below) as well as the amounts that must be paid to the employee and which can be reclaimed from the government (see Q3 and Q4 below). Flexible furlough imposes new record keeping requirements on employers to keep records of hours worked and hours spent on furlough in each period claimed for (see Q31 below).
Yes, provided the other employer is not related to the furloughed employer. If the employee gets a new job, the employee can start work for the new employer (again, provided the new employer is unrelated to the “furlough” employer).
From 1 July 2020, this rule also applies to those on flexible furlough, meaning that such employees will be able to work for another employer in the time they are furloughed (even if they are working part time for their original employer).
This is changing and depends on what furlough period is being claimed for.
Employers will need to take a different approach for employees who are on full time furlough and those who are flexibly furloughed from 1 July 2020. There is now dedicated guidance on how to calculate the monthly wage of a furloughed employee, including a calculation tool – see here.
Up to and including 30 June 2020/those on full-time furlough
For salaried employees (full-time or part-time), the government’s employer guidance is that the monthly wage is calculated by reference to the employee’s “salary” for the last pay period prior to 19 March 2020 (note: previously as at 28 February 2020) and the payments addressed in Q6 below.
For salaried employees who are returning from a period of statutory absence (such as family-related leave) and are furloughed, the general principle is that you use their salary, before tax, and not the pay they received whilst on statutory absence. Although the guidance does not provide a specific date against which to measure salary, presumably it would be the employee’s salary as at the date they returned.
There is also a saving provision in the current rules which states that if an employer relied on the original rules and used 28 February 2020 instead of 19 March 2020, the employer can still use the salary as at that date instead for its first furlough reimbursement claim.
For employees with variable incomes, including “zero-hour” employees, the position is more complicated. For employees with variable incomes who have been employed for a full year, employers will be able to claim the higher of either:
For employees with variable incomes who have been employed for less than a year, employers will be able to claim for an average of the regular monthly wages since they started work and until they are furloughed.
For employees with variable incomes who only started work in February 2020, the wages will need to be pro-rated from that month.
If employee if flexibly fruloughed
Calculating how much can be recovered from the UK government where an employee is flexibility furloughed is complex and requires employers to calculate the following:
The amount that can be recovered under the CJRS is the lesser of 80% of the employee’s usual wages (subject to the tapering from 1 September, see above Q3) or the maximum monthly amount for the relevant month (see above Q3), multiplied by the number of hours spent on furlough in the claim period, divided by the number of hours spent working in the claim period.
The calculation needed will vary depending on whether (i) the employee has fixed contractual hours and their pay does not vary based on the hours worked and (ii) the employee works variable hours. Detailed government guidance is available here and some worked examples are available here.
If the employee works fixed hours their “usual hours” in the claim period are calculated by reference to their contractual hours as at the end of the last pay period ending on or before 19 March 2020. A detailed description of the calculation to follow is available here.
If the employee works variable hours their “usual hours” are calculated based on the higher of:
This should include any hours of paid leave in the period where the employee received full pay (such as annual leave) and any overtime hours where pay was not discretionary.
You must then calculate the usual hours for the pay period (or partial pay period) you are claiming for. The calculation used will vary depending on whether you are using the average number of hours in 2019/20 or the hours in the corresponding pay period. A detailed description of the calculation to follow is available here.
As referred to above, there is now dedicated guidance on how to calculate the monthly wage of a furloughed employee, including a calculation tool – see here.
An employer can claim for any “regular” payments it is obliged to pay its employees. This includes wages, past overtime, compulsory fees and compulsory commission payments. However, any discretionary bonus (including tips) and commission payments, any “irregular” or conditional payments, and any non-cash payments or benefits-in-kind should be excluded.
Employers have a statutory obligation to automatically enrol employees in a workplace pension and there are no powers in place to vary that obligation. Employers will continue to have to make these payments.
Up to the end of July 2020, the scheme covers the minimum pension contribution under UK auto-enrolment rules. In other words, this will be 3% of the employee’s qualifying earnings based on their furlough payment of up to £2,500 per calendar month.
The scheme rules state that any pension payment to a business must be paid into the employee’s pension account in full (i.e. without any deductions at all). The UK Pensions Regulator has also issued new guidance on auto-enrolment compliance during furlough (see here).
From 1 August 2020 employers will need to make pension contributions themselves. This will not be covered by the scheme for reimbursement (see Q3 above).
Employees continue to be entitled to all their other benefit rights under their employment contracts unless they are varied – so employees will be entitled to bonus, commission, healthcare etc.
Varying these rights may or may not require consent depending on the terms of the employment contract. Employees who are furloughed may agree to forgo these benefits.
There are various related questions here. Below, we set out the current position as we best understand it, however ultimately the relationship between furlough (which is governed by the Treasury/HMRC scheme rules) and holiday entitlement (which is governed by the Working Time Regulations 1999) would need to be dealt with by the courts/tribunals (i.e. it is not just a matter for HMRC to provide guidance on). On 13 May 2020 the government issued some guidelines on taking holiday during furlough, which are separate from the CJRS rules. These guidelines are likely to be followed by everyone, though they do not have the force of law.
Employees will continue to accrue continuous service whilst on furlough. This means that some employees who do not yet have the two years’ service required to claim a statutory redundancy payment and to bring an unfair dismissal claim may acquire these rights whilst on furlough.
Payments made by the employer will be subject to the usual deductions for income tax and national insurance. Up to 31 July employers are able to reclaim the employer’s national insurance (subject to the financial limits discussed above).
After 1 August 2020, employers will need to bear the cost of employer’s national insurance deductions themselves.
Pension is dealt with separately (see Q7 above).
Payments are also subject to other deductions such as Student Loan repayments.
Yes, whilst employers probably have the right to send employees home and/or to not require performance in these exceptional times, employees have the right to be paid provided that they are ready, willing and able to work.
The only exception would be if the employment contract expressly permitted lay off without pay or if the employee agreed to any pay reduction as part of a furlough arrangement.
Eligibility. The general rule now seems to be that an employer can claim for any employee (including a fixed-term employee) who was “on your payroll” as at 19 March 2020.
“On your payroll” for these purposes means that the employer had made a HMRC online RTI PAYE submission notifying payment for that employee on or before the relevant date (here: 19 March 2020).
Special rules apply to employees who stopped working before 19 March 2020, provided they were “on your payroll” as at 28 February 2020.
Employees who first started working for an employer after 28 February 2020 and who stopped working for that employer before 19 March 2020, appear not to be covered (however, this is complicated so please discuss it further with your adviser in the unlikely case that this applies to your business).
Employees who stopped working. The rules are now as follows:
Fixed-term employees. HMRC is now saying that a fixed-term employee whose contract has expired can be re-employed and placed on furlough if:
The guidance says that fixed-term employees who started and ended the same contract between 28 February 2020 and 19 March 2020 will not qualify for the scheme.
Employees with serial employers. The rule here is straightforward, and we reproduce it in full:
“If an employee has had multiple employers over the past year, has only worked for one of them at any one time, and is being furloughed by their current employer, their former employer/s should not re-employ them, put them on furlough and claim for their wages through the scheme.”
Up to 30 June 2020, the guidance states that employees who remain working but with reduced hours/pay, will not be eligible for the scheme. There would seem to be no objection to placing those employees on flexible furlough from 1 July 2020, subject to the eligibility requirements – in particular the employee must have completed a qualifying three week period of furlough as of 30 June (meaning they were first placed on furlough no later than 10 June 2020). As a consequence of this, if an employee has been working on reduced hours throughout the pandemic and has never previously been furloughed, they will not be eligible for flexible furlough from 1 July 2020.
There is no objection for an employer to rescind those notices, to furlough and to reassess their position when the scheme ends.
The scheme only covers employees who were “on the payroll” on 19 March 2020 (note: previously 28 February 2020). This means that a payroll record has been set up and submitted under HMRC’s real time information (RTI) system for that employee.
Until 30 June 2020, there is a minimum furlough period of 3 consecutive weeks. This means that any employee who begins an additional period of furlough after returning to work on or before 30 June must complete a full three consecutive weeks of furlough before they can return to work or be moved to flexible furlough. For example, if an employee returned to furlough on 22 June, they must remain on furlough until at least 12 July in order for the period from 22 June to 12 July to be recoverable under the CJRS. After 12 July, the employee can return to work and/or move to flexible furlough.
After 1 July 2020, this three-week minimum has been removed and furlough periods can be any length of time. However, the minimum claim period is seven calendar days.
Executive directors (i.e. those with an employment contract) are eligible. Non-executive directors are also eligible if they are remunerated by PAYE.
The guidance was updated on 1 May 2020 to make it clear that directors who are paid annually, not just periodically during a year, are also eligible (provided they meet the other criteria).
Furloughed directors can carry out duties to fulfil statutory obligations so long as they do no more than would be judged reasonably necessary for those purposes. Directors should be careful not to overstep this limit or this could prejudice a grant application. The new Treasury rules, which will now bind the HMRC, state that statutory obligations for these purposes mean work undertaken by a director to fulfil a duty or other obligation arising by or under legislation relating to (1) the filing of company accounts, or (2) the provision of other information relating to the administration of the company.
Finally, it is worth noting that the scheme rules state that any furlough arrangements applying to directors must be adopted formally as a decision of the company (presumably, by a board resolution).
Most partners and LLP members are self-employed and so will be outside the scope of the scheme.
However, members of LLPs who are designated as employees for tax purposes (“salaried members”) are eligible to be furloughed although amendment of the LLP agreement may be required.
The government announced on 26 March 2020 a scheme for the self-employed, but this only applies to those with profits of less than £50,000. We are not covering the detail of this scheme in our FAQs, but more information can be found here.
Finally, it is worth noting that the scheme rules state that any furlough arrangements applying to LLP members must be adopted formally as a decision of the LLP (presumably, by a resolution).
Yes (assuming that they are paid through PAYE).
Employees can move between sick leave and furlough leave by agreement, provided employers are not doing so to abuse the system.
Remember that the SSP has been modified so that with effect from 13 March 2020 employees can claim from their first day of incapacity and with effect from 14 March 2020 employers with less than 250 employees can reclaim SSP paid in respect of the first 14 days of COVID-19-related sickness absence.
Employers can reclaim the costs of up to two weeks of SSP for COVID-19 related absence under the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme. Needless to say, an employer cannot claim back payments to an employee under both the SSP rebate scheme and the CJRS in respect of the same period.
There is no mandatory process. Employers will wish to ensure there is a clear business rationale for decisions about who to furlough in order to avoid allegations of discrimination and further arguments around the unfairness of any subsequent redundancies. This is especially important where there are a number of employees carrying out a similar role and only some of those employees are to be furloughed.
Informal consultation in a manner appropriate to the business in question is always good practice.
The scheme rules state that “you can furlough employees on all categories of visa”.
The Home Office has now confirmed (in a separate statement) that the scheme can be used for sponsored migrants. They have to meet the same payroll date eligibility requirements as other employees (see above Q12). Some sponsored workers – especially some Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) migrants – will not qualify because they are not on PAYE.
It has also been clarified that sponsors can temporarily reduce the salaries of sponsored migrant workers to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is the lower. Any reductions must be part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies and in which all workers are treated the same. Pay must be returned to normal once these arrangements have ended. Sponsors must report on the SMS that a worker has been furloughed and report the reduction in salary.
Specific advice should be taken and our immigration lawyer can help answer any specific questions.
No, not in relation to the decision to furlough but collective consultation may still be required if redundancies are proposed, even if they will not take effect until the end of the furlough period.
Where an employer goes beyond contemplating the possibility of redundancies, to making a proposal to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees at any establishment within a 90-day period then collective consultation obligations are triggered. Such consultation must begin in good time and for a minimum period of 30 days (45 if more than 100 redundancies are contemplated). This requires consultation with any recognised trade union or, if no other appropriate representatives, employee representatives who are elected for this purpose.
For these purposes, proposing to “dismiss” an employee is deemed to include a situation where the employee proposes to dismiss them under their current contract of employment and offer them new employment on a different (less costly) contract.
Many employers who do not wish to top up salary to 100% of pay will require employee consent to agree to the reduction in pay. They will use the risk of redundancy as the negotiating hook with which to seek consent. Here it will be important to be careful not to inadvertently trigger the collective consultation obligations by suggesting that there is a firm proposal to make redundancies.
Even if collective consultation obligations are triggered failure to consult awards can only be made to those who are actually dismissed. If the expectation is that every employee will consent to be furloughed now rather than to be made redundant after a minimum 30/45-day consultation period, then there will be no person able to bring a claim.
In many cases it will be sensible for employers to start collective consultation. This is so that they can be in a position to implement any necessary redundancies once the scheme comes to a close and so they do not need to wait a further 30/45 days.
This part of employment law can be tricky, so it is one area to check with an adviser if you are considering how to deal with a workforce of 20 or more potentially affected individuals.
This is not explicitly addressed by the guidance. In our view being consulted is not “work” and there some support for that view in the guidance so this should be permitted. However, there is a risk that HMRC adopts a different position after the fact.
This is significant because employers may want to get into a position where they can implement redundancies if things don’t improve once the government grant comes to an end.
Just to recap:
Union representatives and employee representatives have the right to paid time off for carrying out their duties and it may be necessary to “top up” their salaries for those days that they are carrying out their duties. There is also a greater risk that performing these duties is considered to be “work” and so that a claim for furlough payments in respect of any such employees might be rejected by HMRC.
Taking each in turn:
When seeking consent to reduce salary levels employers may wish to give comfort to employees that they will not be disadvantaged as a result of accepting a reduced salary although doing so may impact the tax treatment of any “top up” payments.
Unfortunately this is not clear as there have been multiple contradictory pieces of guidance from the UK Government.
The original policy intent of the scheme is to avoid redundancies and based upon the guidance which was published up to 26 March 2020 it was a requirement of the scheme that the furloughed worker would otherwise have been made redundant. However, nothing in the guidance published on and after 26 March 2020 would appear to specifically prohibit an employee being given notice of termination and then furloughed during their notice period.
Current CJRS guidance states :
“Cannot be used to substitute redundancy payments” but it is not clear what the term “redundancy payments” is intended to mean. The ordinary meaning of those words would be a statutory or contractual redundancy payment but would not extend to a period of employment whilst an employee is on notice.
To further complicate matters, the third Treasury direction released states that it is “integral to the purpose of the CJRS [that funds claimed are] used to continue the employment” of affected employees. This arguably means that using the CJRS to claim for an employee’s notice period is not a legitimate use and could result in claims for repayment from HMRC. HMRC have indicated that this is not the case and claims can be made for wage costs during notice periods. This advice has been non-binding, however, and until official guidance is updated employers should be conscious of the risks.
Of course, in a sense, giving notice of termination, furloughing employees and obtaining a grant does have the effect of reducing overall termination costs. For that reason employers who choose to do this should: (a) keep the guidance under close review with a view to making a claim in due course; but (b) accept the risk they may not be able to recover payments to employees who are serving out notice.
Employers who have already changed their position on the basis of previous iterations of the guidance may be able to rely on the guidance as it is existed but should take specific advice.
Employers should ensure that they keep their decision to make redundancies under review for the duration of the furlough period and take specific advice on the risks.
We expect that the grant will be applied for with a simple “check box” declaration. It is expected thought that HMRC will have extensive enforcement powers to audit applications after the fact in order to prevent fraud and abuse. Successive iterations of the guidance and the Treasury Direction have placed increasing emphasis on the intention to police perceived abuse of the scheme.
In recent days, there has also been a growing public criticism of profit-making businesses (especially larger businesses) using the CJRS to short up their own profits, at the expense of the taxpayer.
A new self-policing mechanism was introduced into the CJRS on 12 June. This allows employers to declare that they have made an error in previous claim when they make a new claim on the online portal. If the error resulted in the employer overclaiming, this should be declared and the new claim will be reduced down to account for the overpayment.
If the error resulted in an underpayment in a previous claim period, HMRC will need to be contacted directly as they will carry out additional checks.
Employers should keep records of any adjustments made to payments recieved under the CJRS for six years.
Payments to employers have started being made. Employers will need to pay and therefore fund salary costs in the meantime and may be eligible for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.
An employer could reach agreement with employees so that furlough payments are instead made on receipt of the payment by HMRC.
Up to and including 30 June 2020
Paperwork. To qualify for payments under the scheme, the employer needs an agreement with an employee (either an individual agreement or a collective agreement) which meets the following criteria:
The furlough letter/agreement. This letter/agreement/email should be retained on file until 30 June 2025. Topics to consider include:
Employers may also wish to encourage employees to undertake training and to consider undertaking volunteer work in support of the wider community.
From 1 July 2020
When an employee is moved to flexible furlough, a new written agreement must be put in place (either an individual agreement or a collective agreement). This should meet the following criteria:
it sets out the main terms and conditions of the flexible furlough arrangement;
it is incorporated (expressly or impliedly) in the employee’s contract;
it is made in writing and agreed with the employee. It appears that, unlike the position until 1 July, the employee is required to respond to this written agreement. Employers should ensure they receive written confirmation of the employee’s agreement to the flexible furlough arrangement;
it is retained by the employer for at least five years (or the confirmation is retained until that date instead).
The furlough letter/agreement. This letter/agreement/email should be retained on file for at least five years. Topics to consider include:
The revised working time during flexible furlough.
Whether there will be a reduction to basic salary whilst on furlough.
When the furlough period will end and the employer’s right to require the employee to return to full time working.
Any impact on any benefits (life assurance etc) which are impacted by the change to salary.
The duration of the current flexible furlough arrangements and ability of the employer to end the period of flexible furlough early.
The fact that employees should not work (perhaps otherwise than undertaking approved training, allowed voluntary activity, or checking emails for HR updates) during hours where they are furloughed.
Yes. Furlough records including the furlough letters (i.e. designating employees as furloughed) must be kept for at least five years.
Note that the furlough period starts form the date that employees ceased working rather than date of the furlough letter and so if furlough letters have not yet been issued then they should be issued as soon as possible.
Employers should also keep records of the following for at least six years:
If an employee is flexibly furloughed, the employer needs to comply with additional record keeping requirements (such records should be retained for at least six years), including:
the usual hours worked for each claim period and the calculations used to determine this figure;
the actual hours worked for each claim period
the hours spent on furlough for each claim period.
We understand that the scheme will only pay out to businesses that have a UK bank account and were registered with HMRC’s online RTI PAYE system in respect of a furloughed employee, on or before 19 March 2020. The CJRS online portal commenced operation on 20 April 2020.
Employers should be prepared to complete declarations that furloughed workers have not been working in periods of furlough (we expect a revised declaration will be implemented from 1 July 2020 to reflect the introduction of flexible furlough). This will be easy for some employers but less easy for employees who can operate remotely. Employers will wish to ensure that the “no work” rules are understood by line management and appropriately policed.
A number of (well resourced) football clubs have been criticised for furloughing staff and have subsequently decided to reserve those decisions are a result of adverse coverage. Organizations that furlough and claim government subsidy should expect their operations to be open to public/press/parliamentary scrutiny.
An issue has arisen in respect of furlough periods that last for longer than three weeks, in terms of when the employer is allowed to seek payment from the government under the scheme. It is now clear that an initial furlough period can be extended by the employer even if the extension in itself is not for three weeks or more. However, the question is how this relates to the mechanism for claiming a payment for the government.
For example, if an employee is furloughed for five weeks, does the employer have to wait and claim for the full five weeks in one submission, or can the claim be split into two submissions of, for example, three weeks and two weeks? The guidance is not clear on this; it just says each furlough period has to be at least three weeks long.
We checked with an adviser at HMRC who has told us in a webchat that two submissions can be made, even though the second submission in our example would only be for two weeks, instead of three weeks, provided the overall furlough period itself is longer than three weeks. We are unable to verify this further ourselves, but passing on the information we have received from the HMRC adviser. It may be desirable to make one submission per furlough period but if you do need to split the submission then make sure you raise this with your payroll provider who may want to clear it with HMRC first.
As the revised CJRS is introduced from 1 July 2020, the existing scheme gradually will be retired. This means that claims under the old scheme (i.e. for periods up to and including 30 June 2020) must be made by 31 July 2020.
From 1 July 2020 a number of practical changes are being made to the claim system, including:
Yes, provided that they are paid through PAYE.
TUPE transfers on or before 10 June 2020
These employees will be covered, provided that the new employer has submitted a claim for the employees in relation to a furlough period of at least three consecutive weeks taking place any time between 1 March 2020 and 30 June.
TUPE transfers after 10 June 2020
These employees will be covered provided that:
For TUPE transfers effective after 10 June 2020, the maximum number of employees that the new employer can claim for under the CJRS is the total of:
Employees on unpaid leave cannot be furloughed for the purposes of the CJRS scheme until their period of unpaid leave naturally comes to an end (in other words, any agreement between the employee and employer to cut short the period of unpaid leave will not be effective.
This is subject to an exception for any employee who started unpaid leave before 1 March 2020 and who agreed with the employer before 20 March 2020 to cut short the period of unpaid leave and be placed on furlough instead. A claim can be made in relation to such an employee.
If an employee was on unpaid leave before 28 February 2020, the employer needs to wait for them to come back to work according to their previously-agreed schedule, before furloughing them. The relevant salary for furlough reasons will be 80% of their salary had they been on paid leave instead of unpaid leave.
If an employee was placed on unpaid leave after 28 February 2020, they can be furloughed instead.
This is not covered in the Government’s furlough scheme at all, but we have included a FAQ as we are being asked this by clients.
EMI options are the most tax-advantaged – and therefore the most popular – of all UK employee share incentives but the favourable tax treatment ceases if a “disqualifying event” occurs in relation to an EMI option. One such event is if the holder of the option ceases to be required to work for his employer for at least 25 hours per week or, if less, 75 per cent of his total working time. If option holders are furloughed, they will obviously fail to meet this requirement during the furlough period.
There can be no real doubt that the Government will not want the tax status of furloughed employees to be tarnished as a result of having been furloughed. HMRC are aware of the problem and are promising to issue “guidance” in the very near future. While this guidance will no doubt be intended to be helpful to taxpayers, until we have read it we will not know what solution to the problem is to be adopted and whether that solution will be completely comprehensive.
We also understand that valuations agreed with HMRC for the grant of EMI options which until now have been valid for 90 days (increased last year from 60 days) will now be valid for 120 days. This is subject to the usual caveat if there are material developments affecting the company’s value.
There should be no significant implications for share plans other than EMI.
An employee who has reduced his or her base salary as part of a salary-sacrifice arrangement, will have their furlough payments calculated by reference to 80% of their new base salary, not their “notional” or “reference” salary (up to the monthly cap of £2,500).
The HMRC guidance states that HMRC will consider Covid-19 as a “life event” allowing an existing salary-sacrifice arrangement to be changed, without upsetting the tax treatment of a prior arrangement.
However, employees who have a salary sacrifice arrangement “reversed” and whose base salary increases as a result of this, should still have their CJRS grant amount determined by reference to the normal timing rules (see above, Q3).
There is nothing in the guidance or any law that would require an employer to reinstate someone in this situation, if the employer did not want to do so.
However, it may be possible for an employee who is let go to bring an unfair dismissal claim against their ex-employer (assuming they have enough service to bring such a claim) and in the process of doing that argue that the dismissal was “unfair” because the employer could have furloughed them instead.
We do not yet know what an Employment Tribunal judge would say about this type of argument. Our current view is that it is not an attractive argument for an employee to make, but it is impossible to know at this stage.
There has been a significant uptake of the scheme. HMRC data as at 11 June 2020, which you can see here, shows that 81% of all businesses have accessed the furlough scheme to date. It remains to be seen how the market responds to flexible furlough and the tapering of government subsidy from 1 August. It is likely that many businesses will restart any discussions about redundancies.
One issue to be aware of is the potential public relations aspect of accessing the scheme. A number of (well resourced) football clubs were criticised for furloughing staff and subsequently decided to reverse those decisions, as a result of adverse coverage. In other markets, some journalists are also now questioning whether large businesses with well-paid executives, should be accessing public funds to pay furloughed staff. Businesses that furlough and claim government payment should therefore expect their operations to be open to public/press/parliamentary scrutiny.
On 8 July 2020, the UK Government announced a new measure to encourage employment after the CJRS ends on 31 October 2020. Under this new scheme, the Government will pay employers a £1,000 bonus for each employee who has been placed on furlough who they retain in employment until the end of January 2021. The employee must earn at least £250 each month from 1 November 2020 to 31 January 2021 for the employer to be eligible to receive the bonus.
As of 8 July 2020 full details of this new scheme have not been published.
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This information provided by GQ|Littler is for general information purposes only. The information presented is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for taking legal advice in any specific situation. Although this information summarises some major recent developments, it is not all inclusive and it may be subject to change as circumstances develop.