Last reviewed 12 May 2020

On 20 March, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a package of “temporary, timely and targeted measures” to support public services, people and businesses through this period of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

This introduced the concept of Furlough Leave, a form of authorised absence whereby the furloughed employees remain on the employer’s payroll and are not allowed to do any form of work.

The manufacturers’ organisation, Make UK, has now produced an “Employer guide to furlough for apprentices” which can be accessed at https://www.makeuk.org/news-and-events/news/2020/04/02/apprentices-and-furlough-advice.

It confirms that apprentices continue on their apprenticeship programme if they have been furloughed, noting that a furloughed employee can take part in volunteer work or training, as long as this does not provide services to or generate revenue for, or on behalf of, the employing organisation.

However, the guide continues, if workers are required to, for example, complete online training courses while they are furloughed, then they must be paid at least the National Living Wage (NLW)/National Minimum Wage (NMW) for the time spent training, even if this is more than the 80% of their wage that will be subsidised.

“In effect,” Make UK states, “if you are placing an apprentice on the furlough scheme then as long as their wages are maintained at the National Living Wage (as illustrated in the guide) then they can legitimately continue their apprenticeship.”

Apprentices are entitled to the NMW apprentice rate of £4.15 per hour if they are either aged under 19 or aged 19 or over and in the first year of their apprenticeship. An apprentice aged 22, for example, and who has completed the first year of their apprenticeship, would be entitled to a rate of £8.20 per hour.

Please note that on 12 May 2020, it was announced that the Job Retention Scheme has been extended until the end of October. From August, the Scheme is likely to run slightly differently to allow the sharing of wage costs between the employer and the Government where employees are brought back to work on a part-time basis.

Comment by Andy Willis, Head of Legal at Croner

This guidance is likely to be well received by organisations with apprentices, outlining that they can be furloughed along with other members of staff and how this arrangement will work in line with any training they may receive.

Employers should bear in mind that training forms an essential part of an apprenticeship and that, in these situations, they will need to adhere to the rules of paying an apprentice if they can still train during a period of furlough.

To this end, it is important to keep in contact with an apprentice to ensure compliance with the law and keep up to date with their situation. After all, the training provider themselves may temporarily have ceased operations as a result of the outbreak.