Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve spent many hours reading and blogging about the many different Government support schemes. Despite immersing myself in the details for so long, this story came as a big surprise to me. It seems that, contrary to what I’ve believed, it is possible for employers to claim from the CJRS (‘Furlough Scheme’) for employees who are self-isolating.

Until now, I’ve believed that there are two main sources of income for self-isolating employees. The first is the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment, aimed at people on low incomes. The second is Statutory Sick Pay, which can be paid to people who are self-isolating for reasons such as living with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

So why is the Furlough Scheme provision for self-isolating employees so little known?

The confusion over self-isolating employees

According to the Politico story, the Treasury didn’t want to publicise the fact that self-isolating employees could go on furlough. According to a senior government official:

“Furlough can be used to cover self-isolation, but [the Treasury] are reluctant to say this explicitly in guidance because it could lead to employees being furloughed who do not need to be”.

The same official explained why he thought the Treasury needed to approve guidance on how self-isolating people could access furlough. In short, they felt that incentive payments were too low to incentivise employees to take COVID-19 tests.

In other words, people would be reluctant to take a test. A positive COVID-19 result would mean their incomes would drop to just Statutory Sick Pay.

Statutory Sick Pay begins at £96.35 per week. Furlough covers 80% of wages up to £2,500 per month. As the Americans say: “You do the math!”

What does the government guidance actually say?

The BBC has a helpful article that helps you to understand what the government guidance actually says about furlough and self-isolation.

On the one hand, guidance says: “short term illness or self-isolation should not be a consideration when deciding if you should furlough an employee”.

On the other hand, the BBC has also unearthed these three snippets:

  • If employers “want to furlough employees for business reasons and they are currently off sick, they are eligible to do so, as with other employees”.
  • Employers “can furlough employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable or at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus”.
  • “It’s up to employers to decide if they will furlough these employees. An employer does not need to be facing a wider reduction in demand or be closed to be eligible to claim for these employees“.

I’ve added the bold text to highlight how it’s essentially an employer’s choice whether to furlough employees who are self-isolating.

Since the story first broke, the Treasury has since clarified its position. It says: “If an employer wants to furlough an employee for business reasons and they are currently off sick then they are eligible to do so as with other employees.”

So there we have it. It’s likely that large numbers of people took Statutory Sick Pay because their employees didn’t realise furlough was an option. However, the Furlough Scheme will run until the end of September. So at least you now know that you have more options for your self-isolating employees!

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About Ben Locker

Ben Locker is a copywriter who specialises in business-to-business marketing, writing about everything from software and accountancy to construction and power tools. He co-founded the Professional Copywriters’ Network, the UK’s association for commercial writers, and is named in Direct Marketing Association research as ‘one of the copywriters who copywriters rate’.

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