A large number of insecure workers are eligible to be put on furlough, updated guidance published by the government has confirmed.
Those on fixed-term contracts, so-called “limb (b)” workers, those on zero-hours contracts and many agency workers can go on paid leave under the terms of the Job Retention Scheme.
The scheme, designed to help workers and firms weather the coronavirus shutdown, allows employers to ask workers to stay at home, for instance if they have no work to offer them, their job cannot be done at home or the worker has caring responsibilities .
Bosses can then reclaim 80 per cent of their wages but must pay at least this amount to the affected worker.
The clarification is positive for workers who are often denied rights enjoyed by those in orthodox permanent employment.
However, it remains unclear how many employers will take advantage of the scheme to help their workers without a harder push by the government.
The government has confirmed that someone on a fixed-term contract can be furloughed and that contract can be extended or renewed during the furlough period.
However, employers are not obliged to offer extensions.
Some workers are not classified as employees (correctly or otherwise), nor are they conventionally self-employed.
Instead they fall under the category of ‘worker’: someone who provides a service as part of someone else’s business. Though often they a worker may be oblivious to their employment status.
Often gig economy workers for online platforms have worker status.
Such workers do not enjoy the full rights of an employee. But the government has made it clear that they are eligible to be furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme, just as an employee is, if they are paid through a firm’s payroll on a Pay as You Earn basis.
Those who instead pay tax through self-assessment might be eligible for the Self-employed income support scheme.
Where agency workers are paid through PAYE, they are eligible to be furloughed and receive support through this scheme, including where they are employed by umbrella companies.
Furlough should be agreed between the agency, as the deemed employer, rather than the end client.
However, it remains unclear whether agencies will pay workers’ holiday leave accrued over the period.
There also remains little financial motivation for agencies to put workers on furlough because they have no obligation to offer work.
A similar issue faces zero-hours workers who are not guaranteed work by their employer. The TUC has long called for a ban on such exploitative working arrangements.
The government has made it clear that such workers are eligible for furlough under the scheme.
For a conventional employee in post for more than a year, the employer can claim 80 per cent of their wage as of February 28.
But lots of people’s pay varies. In which case their pay must be based on the same month’s earnings for the same month last year or average monthly earnings for the 2019-20 tax year, whichever is higher.
If they have been in post for less than a year they should get at least 80 per cent of the average monthly earnings since they started.
The government is quite clear that employees can work for someone else while on furlough. But you have to check the terms of your contract. For instance, you may not be able to work for a direct rival of your usual employer.
The whole system is set up to be initiated by an employer. There is no right for a worker to request to go on furlough.
Good employers will look out for the interests of their workers. So if there is no work, or a worker has caring duties that prevent them working, they will put them on furlough.
What is needed now is to ensure that other employers are told to follow suit.
This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union or an independent advisor before taking any action.
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