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Can staff be furloughed to look after their children?

5 January 2021: Following the announcement of further national lockdowns across the UK, updates to guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme have highlighted that those with caring responsibilities are eligible for furlough.

While there has been no policy change, in light of the latest lockdowns to control the pandemic, updates made today (5 January 2021) to guidance on eligibility for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) now explain this existing possibility more clearly.

The Trades Union Congress has been calling on businesses to furlough staff affected by school closures in recent days, and many commentators are giving the impression that there is a change in policy following the latest national lockdown.

This seems to have been caused by updates to CJRS guidance for employees and employers to explicitly reference those “caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing” as eligible for furlough.

An employer can choose which staff to furlough. The employee must agree to the necessary variation in their employment contract and the furloughed staff member should not engage in any business or income generating activity for the employer while on furlough.

This will then enable the staff member to provide childcare, and this has always been the case.

However, employees do not have the right to insist on being furloughed because they have childcare issues.

HMRC suggests that employees speak to their employer about whether they plan to place staff on furlough in the first instance.