Can the Furlough Scheme be used for employees who need to self-isolate?
The answer is ‘yes’ according to leaked emails obtained by BBC News from senior civil servants. These e-mails seem to indicate that furlough has always been available to employers with employees who needed to self-isolate.
The guidance published by the government specifically states that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (Scheme) is not intended for short-term periods of absence and that employees may be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) during periods when they are required to self-isolate.
However, it then goes on to say that, whilst employers should not consider self-isolation by itself to warrant the use of furlough, it may do so when coupled with other business reasons. The term ‘business reasons’ is not defined so can be interpreted broadly.
This lack of clarity adds to the confusion about the ever-changing rules of the Scheme, which is still due to end in September 2021. Whilst the Scheme has been a lifeline for many businesses and workers, it has also presented numerous concerns to employers, many of whom had to begin using it before substantive guidance had even been published.
It is therefore likely that some businesses did not make use of furlough even when they were eligible, whilst others will have unknowingly used the Scheme when they were ineligible.
HMRC have indicated that they will approach any investigations into abuses of the Scheme pragmatically, but businesses may reasonably point out that it would have been of greater assistance for more clarity on the rules to have been provided from the outset to ensure that businesses were compliant throughout.