Can an employer place an employee on furlough leave if they are off sick?

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Simple answer is Yes.

Guidance published by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was updated on 9 April 2020 to confirm that, while the scheme “is not intended for short-term absences from work due to sickness”, employers can furlough employees who are off sick if they have “business reasons” for doing so. Employers cannot make a claim under the scheme for an employee who is in receipt of statutory sick pay (SSP) during the claim period. Furloughing an employee on sick leave will bring their entitlement to SSP to an end.

Employees who are on long-term sick leave can be furloughed and their employer can make a claim for them under the scheme. The guidance states that it is for the employer to decide whether or not to furlough such an employee.

If an employee is self-isolating in line with government guidance, they will be entitled to SSP. As with employees on sickness absence, the employer can end SSP for a self-isolating employee and put them on furlough leave instead. If an employee is “shielding”, because they are at high risk from coronavirus (or they need to stay at home with someone who is shielding), the HMRC guidance confirms that their employer can furlough them and make a claim under the scheme.

If an employee falls ill during a period of furlough leave, the guidance confirms that there is no obligation on the employer to end the period of furlough and move the employee onto SSP (although the employer can choose to do so).

If you’re looking for advice on this subject and want to know how the changes will impact your business.

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