Five things you need to know: furlough and zero hours workers

Over the last few weeks our employment law helpline has received hundreds of calls about furlough and zero hours workers. Alan Price, HR expert and CEO at BrightHR, answers five of the most frequently asked questions

Alan Price

1. Can I furlough zero hours workers?

Yes, you can. Any employee can be furloughed as long as their work has been severely affected by covid-19, they are on PAYE and you hired them before 28 February 2020.

Employees can be on any type of contract, whether that be zero hours, variable hours, part time or full time.

2. Do I need to get a zero hours worker’s permission to furlough them?

Yes, it is best to discuss your decision with your worker first and make sure you have their agreement before you put them on a period of furlough.

You should also make sure that you put this decision in writing and make it clear that their furlough status is only temporary.

3. All eligible workers are entitled to 80% of their wage as part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS). How is that calculated for zero hours workers?

Good question.

If your worker’s pay varies because they are on a zero hours contract, then the 80% limit will be based on the same month’s earning from a previous year, or their average monthly pay during the 2019-20 tax year – whichever is highest.

4. Can I furlough my zero hours worker if they have another job?

If your zero hours worker currently has more than one employer, they can be put on furlough by one employer and continue to work for another, if it is allowed in their employment contract.

If they are put on furlough by more than one employer, they will get separate payments from each one.

The 80% of their normal wage up to a £2,500 monthly cap applies to each job.

5. Some of my zero hours workers are carrying out training and volunteer work while on furlough. Is this okay?

Yes, all employees can carry out training and volunteer work whilst on furlough as long as they are not providing services to, or making money for, your company.

But keep in mind that if your employee is earning less than the National Minimum Wage (NMW) while they are on furlough and they spend time in training which attracts the minimum wage entitlement, you will need to cover the shortfall for the time they spent training.

About the author

Alan Price, CEO at BrightHR is a leading authority on employment law and HR. 

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