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Coronavirus - Staff Q&As

Information about Furloughing

You'll find the University's guidance on furloughing here.

We've also produced a set of FAQs specifically related to the furloughing process:


What does Furlough mean?

The word ‘furlough’ (which is new to UK Employment Law) generally means temporary leave of absence from work.  This can be due to economic conditions affecting one company, or matters affecting the whole country.  The UK government has adopted this term when setting out the arrangements for supporting employers and employees in response to the unprecedented situation presented by the COVID-19 pandemic with a view to avoiding redundancies.

The government has introduced a scheme called the ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ whereby UK employers can apply for a grant to cover a proportion of furloughed employees’ wages during this crisis in the event that the employers’ operations are severely affected by COVID19.  Employees may be eligible to be furloughed if they have been on their employer’s payroll on or before 19 March 2020 and their salary cost is not directly attributed to public funding.


Why is the University furloughing staff? 

There are a number of roles at the University, all of which are extremely valuable during normal operations, but which are very difficult (or not possible) to carry out from home.  In addition, the activity on campus has scaled back considerably as students are now all studying remotely. 


The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme helps employers reclaim the cost of employing people who are unable to work at home and in order to access it, the University needs to furlough the staff (or some of the staff where there is a reduction rather than a cessation of work) who undertake these roles.



Why is my role being furloughed?

The decision to designate certain roles as being furloughed is not related to the value placed on the role by the University.  We have identified roles that cannot be undertaken at home and which are typically funded by external income, such as accommodation and event fees and so on.



How has the University decided who should be furloughed?

The decision whether or not to furlough roles has been determined by establishing those roles which are unable to be carried out remotely.  The source of funding has also been another factor as this is relevant to the eligibility for the government scheme.   To be eligible for the scheme, the salary cost must be attributed to funding other than the funding the University receives from the Scottish Funding Council.  Where there is room for some discretion, e.g. where a skeleton staff is required, individual circumstances will be taken into account, wherever possible.



What can I do if I don’t want to be furloughed?

This is a very difficult time for everyone and the University has a duty to act in a way to protect the interests of all employees.  Decisions on which roles to furlough have been driven by operational need.  Where there is some discretion about who should be furloughed individual circumstances are taken into account as much as possible.


To be furloughed, your written agreement is required. The University will write to each member of staff proposed to be designated as a furloughed worker seeking their consent. If you do not wish to agree to this arrangement, then unfortunately we may need to consider exploring other options, such as unpaid leave or redundancy. 



What does this mean for my employment contract with the University?

Being furloughed has no impact on your employment status with the University.  Your continuous service will be unaffected and at all times you will remain employed by the University.  Please note that this also means that the obligations placed on you as an employee, e.g. in relation to confidentiality, continue to apply.



What is the difference between furlough and being laid off or made redundant?

The decision to furlough roles has been taken as a short-term measure to deal with the immediate operational and financial challenges that the University is currently experiencing.  Staff who are furloughed remain on the payroll, so is different to being laid off without pay, or being made redundant.



If I am furloughed, am I more likely to be made redundant in the future?

No.  If there is a need to make any roles redundant in the future, decisions will be made on the future needs of the University and not whether your role was furloughed, or not.



Can I undertake any work for the University while I am furloughed?

No.  You are not able to do any work for the University whilst you are furloughed.  You may still access your work email for personal matters but must not send or respond to any work-related emails while you are furloughed.  You may be asked to join occasional meetings with the purpose of being kept up to date with University business.



Can I undertake training while I am furloughed?

Yes, and we would encourage you to do this as long as in undertaking the training you do not provide services to, or generate revenue for, or on behalf of the University.



Can I get in touch with my work colleagues when I am furloughed?

Yes. Maintaining social contacts with your colleagues is absolutely fine and recommended while you are furloughed.  Your manager will maintain appropriate contact with you during any periods of furlough. 



How long will furlough last for?

The minimum amount of time that someone can be furloughed is three weeks.  Currently the government scheme is available until 30 June, although it may be extended.  Your letter will confirm the initial duration of your furlough period.  The University will keep the situation under constant review and your furlough period could be ended earlier if operationally required. 



What happens to my salary while I am furloughed?

Based upon Government guidance, we anticipate being in a position to reclaim 80% of your normal basic salary up to a maximum of £2,500 (gross) per month while you remain furloughed.  However, the University will top this up and also pay full salaries where they are in excess of the cap of £2,500, so you will receive your normal basic salary during this time.  We reserve the right to review this arrangement should the need arise and you would be informed of this in writing in advance, with at least 7 days’ notice.  Overtime or additional payments are not included.



Is it the Government or the University who pays me while I am furloughed?

You will continue to receive your normal salary from the University.  The University will apply to the government for funding to cover 80% of your salary (up to a maximum of £2,500 per month) but this will not affect your pay arrangements.  Your pay will continue to be subject to the usual tax and National Insurance deductions.



What happens if the Government does not repay the 80% back to the University?

If the University has identified your role to be furloughed and you have agreed to this temporary variation in your terms and conditions, you will receive your normal basic salary during this time.  We reserve the right to review this arrangement should the need arise and you would be informed of this in writing in advance.  If subsequently, the Government does not pay the University a proportion of your salary, you will not be asked to repay any monies.



What happens to my pension during the furlough period?

We anticipate being in a position to reclaim employer pension contributions up to the level of the minimum automatic enrolment employer contribution (3% on qualifying earnings).  If you are a member of the pension fund, the University will top this up so that you your normal employer pension contributions (which are over 20%) continue during the furlough period.  The University reserves the right to review this should the need arise and you would be informed of this in writing in advance.  The pension contributions that you make will be unaffected during this time.



What happens to my annual leave while I’m furloughed?

You will continue to accrue annual leave during the furlough period.  You are expected to continue to request and take your annual leave in the normal way and should note that you may be asked to take periods of annual leave while you are furloughed.  All leave accrued in the current leave year must be taken by 31 August 2020.  There will be no carry-over of annual leave for this year only, except in exceptional circumstances due the nature of the role and with authorisation from the Dean or Director of Service.  



Can I work elsewhere while I am furloughed?

Your current contractual obligations regarding working elsewhere continue to apply while you are furloughed and you should ensure that there is no conflict of interest.  You should obtain approval from your Dean/Director if you wish to take up employment elsewhere.



Do I have to be available for work while I’m furloughed?

No, you don’t need to be available for work while you are furloughed.  However, we may need to be in touch with you to discuss the furlough arrangements and we may ask you to return to work at relatively short notice as government guidance changes.  We will endeavor to give you as much notice as possible, although given that the response to COVID-19 is changing so rapidly, it may not be possible to provide you with much notice.



What happens if I’m ill while I’m furloughed?

If you become ill while you are furloughed, you should notify your manager in the normal way so that you can receive appropriate support.  You will remain on furlough leave for the agreed period as planned.  If your furlough period is due to end and you are not fit to return to work due to sickness, you will be treated as being off sick in the normal way and receive associated occupational or statutory sick pay, at the end of the furlough period.


Where it has been decided that an employee is eligible to be furloughed and they are currently off sick, they will receive a letter proposing to designate them as a furlough worker and if they agree, they will be placed on furlough leave.  It is important that they keep in touch with their manager and inform them when they are no longer ill.



Are the trade unions aware of these arrangements?

Yes.  We have discussed these arrangements with our two trade unions, the EIS and UNISON, and they have consented to the University making the furlough proposal directly to affected staff in their bargaining groups.



How will the period when I am furloughed be treated in My Contribution?

While you are furloughed you are not able to undertake any work so this period of time will be discounted when assessing your performance.



What happens if I am on maternity leave or another type of family leave, or due to start it soon?

Employees who are on maternity leave, adoption leave, paternity leave or shared parental leave will be unaffected by furlough and will receive the normal enhanced contractual pay as per the University’s policies. If you return from leave, then depending on the circumstances, you may then be furloughed.



Can I undertake volunteer work while I am furloughed?

You may with your Dean/Director’s agreement, take part in unpaid voluntary work as long as it does not provide a service to the University, or generate any revenue for, or on behalf of the University. 



The hours that I work at the University vary and I claim for the hours that I work, can I still be furloughed?

Yes, if the University decides that your role will be furloughed, you would receive a monthly payment that represents either the same month’s earning from the previous year or your average monthly earnings for the 2019-20 tax year (whatever is higher). 



I am employed on a fixed term contract, can I be furloughed?

Yes, if the University decides that your role will be furloughed.



Can I take up the COVID-19 Emergency Volunteering Leave if I am on furlough leave?

If you wish to volunteer for the health or social care services under the temporary Emergency Voluntary Leave scheme, you must notify your manager and the HR team of your intentions. 


Staff are entitled to be absent from work for the purposes of Emergency Voluntary Leave providing they have obtained an emergency volunteering certificate which is issued by an appropriate authority, such as the NHS and given a minimum of three working days’ notice to the University.  The certificate confirms that they have been approved as an emergency volunteer in health or social care and will specify the period.   


Emergency Voluntary Leave is unpaid and can be taken in block of two, three or four weeks.  Whilst on Emergency Voluntary Leave, employees are entitled to return to their job after their period of leave and will remain entitled to the benefit of all their usual terms and conditions of employment, with the exception of any terms relating to pay/remuneration.