Head of Employment Joseph Lappin outlines the rights of employees who may be on the government’s furlough scheme in a Q&A with the Telegraph.
The full article, which can be read here (subscription required), focuses on the rights of parents who may be juggling work and childcare, asking the question, “Many women struggling to balance homeschooling with work are requesting to be furloughed – but could it damage their careers?”
Am I allowed to ask to be furloughed?
You can ask your employer to be furloughed but you cannot insist on being placed on furlough leave. This decision lies with your employer. There is no obligation on an employer to consult with employees before selecting staff for furlough leave. Employers also don’t need to justify their decisions to employees who are not selected for furlough leave.
Does my employer have to consider my request, and can I appeal the decision?
In short, no. But, if you are not selected for furlough leave and you believe that the employer’s selection criteria is unfair or discriminatory you can raise a grievance, which your employer should investigate.
Are my employment rights affected by my furloughed status?
Your continuity of service will continue and your statutory employment rights should not be affected. Your pay may be reduced during furlough leave but this should be a temporary amendment to your terms of employment.
Can I ask for furlough to be extended or cut shorter?
How long you are placed on furlough leave is a decision for your employer. However, if you believe that the landscape has shifted and that there is now sufficient work for you to do then speak to your employer about returning to work. If your employer decides to bring your period of furlough leave to an end there is little you can do about this. You cannot insist that you should stay on furlough leave.
Do I have a right to ask for unpaid leave to look after children?
All employees have the right to take “reasonable” unpaid time off work where it is necessary to care for dependants. The amount of time that can be taken as leave is not limited or defined by the relevant legislation but it would be reasonable, in my view, for a parent to take time off to care for children who cannot attend school during the Covid-19 pandemic. If you are asked to return to work but you can’t, because you need to care for your child, you should inform your employer as soon as possible of the reason for your absence. You should also give an indication of when you expect to return to work, although this will be difficult if no date has been set for reopening schools.
Parents may also want to consider taking unpaid parental leave to look after children if their employer insists they return to work but they cannot.
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