Employment law

Furlough & COVID-19 used unfairly to shelve unwanted staff

Lawyers are receiving a high level of calls from employees suffering ‘furlough discrimination’ as some businesses use the COVID-19 crisis to unfairly shelve staff.

08 May 2020

Employment law specialists Slater and Gordon advised over 300 workers with Covid related concerns in April, fielding an average of 16 enquiries a day.

Issues included suspected furloughing because of age, sex and ethnicity, or staff being bullied into accepting serious changes to their employment contracts.

Workers hit unfairly with these situations were not limited to specific roles, with calls coming in from people at all levels and sectors including education, media and law.

Slater and Gordon employment lawyer Danielle Parsons said: “We are hearing from numerous people who have been singled out and targeted for the furlough scheme.

“They all appear to have very noticeable discriminatory tones, where decisions have been made unfairly based on age, ethnicity or sex.

“Another very concerning pattern suggests pregnant women or mothers on maternity leave are also being targeted.

“I have spoken to pregnant women and women due to return from maternity leave who are being pushed aside and furloughed unfairly or feel aggressively bullied into accepting furlough.

“I have also seen working mums who are struggling to work from home with a lack of childcare being hit with unfair performance criticisms and furloughed. These women are now worried this unfair furloughing will eventually lead to an unfair dismissal.

“There should be a fair process carried out in relation to furlough which appears to be missing in many cases. Using criteria related to protected characteristics in this way is discrimination.”

Lawyers have voiced concerns that the volume of enquiries could rise as the furlough scheme is brought to an end and lockdown restrictions are reduced.

Those seeking legal advice also include workers being forced to accept pay cuts with no reduction in working hours, or pay-cuts being unilaterally imposed without consultation or agreement.

These are frequently taking place with little or no time to consider these changes to their contracts.

Many people who have continued to attend work have reported numerous health and safety issues including a lack of handwashing facilities and not being able to practise social distancing.

Advice has also been sought by those forced to work, or threated with losing their jobs if they follow government advice to stay home.

Danielle Parsons added: “We are seeing great leadership from some employers, but also worrying behaviour from others.

“This is a time for businesses to really support their staff and set out what they stand for. No companies should be using the current crisis to excuse unfair and unlawful treatment of their staff.

“Businesses should be taking advantage of the furlough scheme where possible and different government schemes to try to retain their staff so they can return to work when the crisis ends.

“If there really is a genuine redundancy situation employers should still comply with the law and carry out a fair dismissal procedure. If employers treat their employees unfairly they are risking Employment Tribunal claims.”

Many of these calls have come through Slater and Gordon’s phone line which offers free 15 minute consultations, or their online Covid legal advice hub.

Talk to one of our friendly employment law experts today by calling 0330 041 5869 or contact us online and we'll be happy to call you.

All information was correct at time of publication.

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