Employment Law Update - Covid-19 - Furlough Leave – are we there yet?
The HMRC portal for claiming Furlough Leave payments is up and running. HMRC says it is confident that the system has capacity to deal with all claims and that it will make payments within 6 days of application. The proof will be in the pudding.
In advance of opening the portal the Government issued a flurry of further information in the latter part of last week, a fair amount of it on Friday afternoon. Clarification has been added, but there remain gaps and inconsistencies.
The full amount of information is now vast, but I thought it may be helpful to highlight a few points:-
Length of the scheme – It has now been extended to 30th June and could be extended further. It is thought that this change was undertaken now because some larger employers contemplating mass redundancies once the scheme ends would by law have had to start mass consultation by the middle of April. That wouldn’t have been great for morale at this very uncertain time and particularly so when businesses have no inkling of the ‘exit’ strategy and therefore cannot plan effectively.
The extent of the agreement between employer and employee – In the middle of last week the Treasury issued a Direction to HMRC setting out how it is required to operate the Furlough scheme. The document isn’t the easiest to understand, but said that in order to make a claim in relation to an employee there had to be a written agreement between the employer and employee, which could be in electronic form and in relation to which the employee specifically agreed to cease all work in relation to their employment. Prior to that point it had been understood that obtaining written consent from employees wasn’t essential. The various editions of the Guidance issued to employers, and we are now on our fifth version, have said different things. Subsequent to the Direction, Friday afternoon’s Guidance says that the agreement between employer and employee needs to be consistent with employment law and specifically envisages that this doesn’t necessarily mean that a written response is required from the employee. Good practice must be for employers to seek confirmation of agreement in writing, but if this is not possible it would seem that all is not lost.