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23 April 2020

Job Retention Scheme (JRS) Q&A for employees

With the UK now well and truly locked down, government figures so far show a surge in the number of employers applying for the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) to recover the costs of their workforce.

However, not all employers are taking up the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) opportunity and there is no obligation on them to do so. These are unsettling times for employees. This Q&A update aims to answer some frequently asked questions regarding the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) for employees.

Q1. My employer hasn’t furloughed me, instead, I have been made redundant – is that allowed?

Current figures from the government suggests that huge numbers of employers have furloughed staff. Unfortunately, however, there is no obligation on them to do so and some businesses have decided to let staff go now rather than later on.

However, you may still have a claim for unfair dismissal. If you have at least two years’ service, your employer must have gone through a period of consultation with you and sought to avoid redundancies where possible.

Q2. Employees laid off for more than 4 weeks currently have the right to resign and claim redundancy pay – does this apply to me if I have been furloughed for the same amount of time? 

In respect of the current government Job Retention Scheme – colloquially called ‘furlough’, this is not the same as being laid off. You do not have the automatic right to request redundancy while on furlough. However, with the economic downturn caused by the virus approaching, your employer will likely be considering redundancies in any event once the JRS ends.

There is further guidance on furlough and what it means for staff on the government’s website if you need it.

Q3. My employer is forcing me to come to work but lockdown isn’t over yet – is this allowed?

The answer to this question greatly depends on the individual circumstances of the employer/employee relationship and the nature of the job you do. If you are suffering from symptoms of coronavirus you should not be attending work and should isolate immediately. The below guidance relates to situations where you have not got symptoms but are isolating as a precaution.

Firstly, the government has issued guidance which stipulates that certain individuals must shield themselves from society for their own protection. These people include anyone who has recently had solid organ transplants, has certain cancers or respiratory conditions and pregnant women with significant heart disease.

Secondly, the guidance issued on social distancing generally outlines categories of people who are significantly more at risk than others. They are:

  • Individuals aged over 70.
  • Women who are pregnant.
  • Individuals aged under 70 but suffer from underlying health conditions
  • Any adult instructed to get a flu jab each year
  • Anyone with chronic respiratory diseases, chronic heart, kidney or liver disease, diabetes, and those with a weakened immune system.

Where you fall into one of the above groups, and you can work from home, your employer should not attempt to make you attend work.

The difficulty arises where you are not able to perform your role at home. You should make it clear to your employer that you are in one of the above groups and if necessary, provide any relevant medical evidence.

Cases will be judged on their facts and there is no specific right to refuse work on the grounds of coronavirus unless you have symptoms. That said, your employer should be aware that forcing you to attend work in these circumstances could amount to breaching their duty of care towards you. They would need extremely compelling grounds to demonstrate that their instructions to you were reasonable. There is also a risk that by doing this your employer has breached the implied term of mutual trust and confidence between you. This could allow you to resign and claim constructive dismissal, as well as discrimination.

For more information on the employment services Steeles Law offers for employees, please see our dedicate webpage.

If you would like further advice on any of the content covered in our Job Retention Scheme (JRS) for employees Q&A or you have an Employment Law Q&A you would like advice with, please do not hesitate to contact the team via on employment@steeleslaw.co.uk or by calling 01603 598000.

*The information provided in this article is designed to provide useful information on the subject, not to provide specific legal advice.