Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

by Richard Stephens, employment lawyer

What is it?

It is a temporary scheme which has been put in place by the government for an initial period of three months starting from 1 March 2020.  It is designed to help employers whose operations have been severely affected by Coronavirus to retain their employees and protect the economy.  However, all employers are eligible to claim under the scheme.

If an employer cannot maintain its current workforce, it can furlough employees and apply for a grant that covers 80% of their wage costs up to £2,500 a month.

Who can claim?

The scheme applies to businesses, charities and public authorities.

It covers employees who are on the PAYE payroll on or before 28 February 2020. 

The employees can be on any type of employment contract, including full-time, part-time, fixed term and zero-hour contracts.

Agreeing to furlough employees

Employers should discuss the proposal with relevant staff members before making any changes to their employment contract.  In the vast majority of cases, it will be necessary to reach agreement with the employee before the decision is made.

When employers are making decisions about the process, including deciding who to offer furlough to, equality and discrimination laws will apply in the usual way.

To be eligible for the government grant, employers must confirm in writing to their employee that they have been furloughed.  A record of this communication must be kept for five years.

It is important to note that furloughed workers cannot undertake any work for the employer.

How much can be claimed?

An employer can claim for:

80% of its employees’ wages up to a maximum of £2,500 per month; and

Minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on the subsidised wage.

The employer can choose to top up its employees salary to the full 100% but does not have to.

There are different ways to calculate wages depending on individual circumstances.  Any regular payments that an employer is obliged to pay employees must be added to the calculation.  This includes wages, compulsory commission payments and past overtime.  However, it does not include discretionary bonuses or commission.


Claims can be backdated until 1 March 2020 where employees have already been furloughed.

Employees must be furloughed for a minimum period of three consecutive weeks.  They can be furloughed multiple times, but each separate instance must be for a minimum period of three consecutive weeks.

Treatment of employees who are on furlough

An employer cannot ask their furloughed employees to do any work that makes money for the organisation or provides services for that organisation.  They can, however, take part in volunteer work or training for the employer.

Employees will continue to pay taxes that they normally pay out of their wages.  They will also have the same rights to SSP, maternity and paternity rights and redundancy payments etc.

Providing they are entitled to do so under their employment contract, employees are permitted to work for another employer while on furlough.

Further Advice

If you are an employer or an employee and have any questions about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, please do not hesitate to contact me on my direct dial number: 020 8370 2875 or email me on