Last reviewed 12 November 2020

This long-awaited government guidance confirms many of the details surrounding the extended furlough scheme, officially known as the Job Retention Scheme (JRS), suggesting that those who are serving a notice period from December may not be eligible.

Since it was announced that the Scheme was to be extended until the end of March 2021, employers awaited further guidance on use of the extended Scheme. This guidance was finally released on 10 November.

It appears that the rules of the Scheme are similar to how the scheme operated before. However, despite the increase in flexibility that the extended scheme provides when compared to its original incarnation in March, such as permitting flexible furlough from the start, the Government have also placed further restrictions on its usage which were not previously implemented.

Notice periods

A crucial point is the situation regarding making claims for furloughed staff who are serving their notice period. Previously, there were no restrictions on this and staff could be made redundant even if they were currently on furlough. Now, it appears that the Government is taking a stricter approach to this, suggesting that from December, they may prohibit claims for those who are serving notice periods. While this has yet to be confirmed, it would be consistent with previous government plans for the furlough scheme’s planned replacement, the Job Support Scheme, before it was indefinitely postponed; claims were not to be permitted for those serving a notice period.

Maternity leave

There is also a significant change confirmed for staff who wish to return from maternity leave early in order to instead be placed on the Scheme and therefore receive a higher amount of money. Those who wish to do this will need to provide at least eight weeks’ notice of their intention to do this, and their employer cannot place them on furlough until these eight weeks are up. This in theory, provides less freedom for staff in this position and employers will need to make sure that all employees seeking to return from maternity leave early are aware of this. Depending on their situation, it may be more advisable for them to remain on the leave as planned.

Annual leave

The Government also clarified rules on taking annual leave while furloughed will remain the same; those who do take it must be paid in full for this time. Further guidance for furloughed staff who fall ill was also issued, suggesting that, it would be at the employer’s discretion whether staff would remain furloughed or classed as on sick leave and therefore start paying them SSP if they qualify. However, future amendments to the guidance will clarify this further and employers should approach this situation with caution for now.

TUPE

Another point to consider is the guidance on whether staff who have transferred over to a business under TUPE can be furloughed. As before, it seems that this will depend on when the transfer took place, key dates for which being specified in the guidance.

Job Retention Bonus (JRB)

With the extension of the JRS, the JRB will no longer be necessary. The JRB was set to be a much-needed addition to the long list of initiatives adopted to support coronavirus economic recovery in the UK. Its ultimate aim was to support organisations who retained their furloughed staff after the Job Retention Scheme ended on 31 October 2020 with a one-off taxable payment of £1000 that organisations received for every furloughed staff member they brought back to work who met certain qualifying criteria, including a minimum level of earnings.

Provisions in a new incentive replacing the JRB could be announced at a later date. Organisations will have to wait for further announcements to find out exactly how the Government will process once furlough officially comes to an end.

Going forward, it is essential that employers familiarise themselves with this guidance as much as possible. It should also be remembered that the furlough scheme has seen significant amendments since it was originally implemented.