Specifically, employees want to know whether they can ask that their employer to put them on furlough or consider other options if they cannot work because of childcare or other caring commitments. Does the employer have to accede to their requests?
The government guidance on the CJRS scheme updated in November (and again this month) confirms that furlough is available to people who are required to stay home because they have childcare or other caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus. Many employers are not aware yet that the guidance has changed.
Earlier this month the TUC publicised the issue calling on employers to “do the right thing” and offer furlough to all parents affected by school closures. Their recent survey of more than 50,000 working mothers in the UK found that 78% of working parents have not been offered furlough by their employers, with parents using annual leave to manage their childcare, reducing their working hours, or taking unpaid leave.
These are issues which employers must take address fairly, and consistently, given the length of time which schools may be closed. In England this is until at least February half term (the week commencing 15 February). The period over which lockdown restrictions could last, including the closure of schools, has now been extended by legislation, to 31 March 2021. The furlough scheme is currently due to end on 30 April 2021.
Employers are now being faced with competing requests; they should be consistent and non-discriminatory in their approach and have a structured plan. The rationale for decisions around whether to agree to furlough should be documented. As ever, the duty of trust and confidence should be borne in mind. Other options available to employees as an alternative to furlough are discussed below. These could include taking annual leave, unpaid parental leave and requests for flexible working. Click here to read more