In this piece, myself and my colleague Alex Needham look at how the furlough scheme impacts shielders and carers. 

There have been a significant number of updates to the furlough scheme (CJRS) since it was first introduced, with the government often responding to social and economic pressures. At the end of last week we saw a further reaction to social and media commentary following the announcement that all secondary schools would be closed in the most recent national lockdown. This was in the form of further updated guidance to state that employers are able to furlough employees who are unable to work, either from home or with reduced hours if they:

  • ‘are clinically extremely vulnerable, or at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus; or 
  • have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus, such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in their household’.

Clinically extremely vulnerable

The official guidance states that ‘if you cannot make alternative arrangements, your employer may be able to furlough you under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ (CJRS).

Those in the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ category will have previously received a letter from their GP advising them to shield during the national lockdown. It is expected that further letters will now be issued to people who fall within this category. For those who are unable to work from home or take on an alternative role for their employer this will be particularly welcome news. It is worth noting that employers are not under any obligation to furlough employees in the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ category and this is only one of a number of options available to employers which they must now carefully consider.

Caring responsibilities 

As noted in our most recent article, many employees are now facing the immense pressure of balancing their own remote working with supervising their children as a result of recent school closures. Employers were also in an ambiguous position where they wished to support these employees but also may have struggled to pay them their full wage if they could not perform their full role. The same applies to those who are the primary carers of vulnerable individuals.

This update in the guidance is therefore a particularly welcome change for parents and carers as both employees and employers now have certainty that furlough can be used if an employee has to home-school their children or care for vulnerable people.

If you have any queries about the updated guidance and would like to discuss them, please contact a member of our Employment Team.