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COVID-19 FAQ: Furlough Leave

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Questions 

What does furlough mean? 

The government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme forms part of a collective national effort to protect people's jobs during the Coronavirus lockdown restrictions. It is run by the HMRC. 

Employees who are unable to work because of the lockdown restrictions or where work has temporarily reduced can be placed on ‘furlough leave'.  The Scheme will close on 31 October 2020.

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How will I know if I am on furlough leave? 

Your line manager will normally have spoken to you in the first instance and you will  have received a letter providing more information about the arrangements around furlough leave, including confirmation that you cannot undertake any work for the University while you are on furlough leave.

If you have any questions, please contact your line manager in the first instance. 

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What will happen to my pay? And will my income tax, NICs and pensions contributions be affected? 

You do not need to take any action in relation to your pay.  The University will continue to pay you and will deduct tax and National Insurance as required and contribute to pensions (where applicable).  For those with substantive permanent or fixed term roles, the University will continue to pay 100% of salary.  For those regularly employed casually or via Campus Jobs it has been agreed to seek financial support from the Scheme with the amount payable to eligible individuals calculated in line with HMRC guidance.

Where the University has agreed to continue to pay 100% of your salary, you continue to be paid in the normal way.  Deductions of tax, National Insurance and pension contributions continue throughout the furlough leave period. There is no interruption to your pension or life assurance benefits while you are on furlough leave. 

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How long can I be placed on furlough leave? And when will I know when to come back to work? 

Up until 30 June 2020 the minimum period of furlough leave was 3 weeks.  From 1 July 2020, Flexible Furlough has been introduced where flexible furlough arrangements are being used, arrangements will be discussed with individual colleagues and confirmed in writing

All colleagues on furlough leave will be contacted by their manager to confirm when they individually are expected to return to work and whether this is on campus or working from home.

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Can I refuse to be on furlough leave? 

Yes, you can object to being placed on furlough. However, it is important to remember that the University is committed to continuing to pay you at 100% of your pay in substantive permanent and fixed term roles. We are using the Job Retention Scheme to help us to get through a difficult time when workloads have changed or been significantly reduced, and your support is vital.   If you have any concerns, the formal letter confirming your furlough includes an opportunity to provide feedback, or please raise these with your line manager.

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Can I continue to work for the University or continue volunteering when I am on furlough leave? 

You will not be provided with any work and you must not carry out any work for the University while you are on furlough leave.  This will be confirmed in writing to you. 

Your manager will decide who you are to hand over any outstanding work to and will give you time to do this before your furlough leave begins.  

You can sign up to volunteer for other organisations while on furlough leave from your employment with the University. 

You can take part in personal development and training provided by the University - please see the question ‘Can I keep in touch with colleagues, or access online training and wellbeing support?'

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What do I need to do if I have approval rights in my management role?

If you approve annual leave for members of your team, HR will direct this on the system to another manager in your team that is not on furlough leave so annual leave requests will still be processed in your absence.

If you are a Financial Approver, then before you go on furlough leave, you need to access the system to set up a ‘Substitute approver'. This will ensure that requests will continue to be processed in a timely manner in your absence.

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Does being on furlough leave mean that I am more likely to be made redundant in the future? 

No, while you are on furlough leave you will remain employed by the University and you will continue to accrue service and other benefits. You will then return to your normal terms of employment at the end of furlough leave.    

Should there be a need for reductions in the number of staff at some point in the future, the University will work with the Trade Union and Staff Forum to discuss the options and enter into full consultation with the affected staff groups.  A redundancy process is separate and distinct from being placed on furlough leave, and furlough leave will not be taken into account.  

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What happens to my annual leave while I am on furlough leave?  

You continue to accrue annual leave while on furlough leave. If you already have annual leave booked during the period of furlough leave, you should continue to take it as planned.  

Your manager may specifically ask you to book and/or take annual leave during or at the end of your furlough leave period prior to returning to work. The reason for doing this is to ensure full operational capacity as we move through the phased return period and to reflect the ongoing commitment of the University to support colleagues on furlough leave by continuing to top up the Government scheme to full salary.

Our policy on carrying over leave has been slightly adjusted to allow staff to carry over a maximum of 2 working weeks or 10 days to the next annual leave year and this can be used throughout the whole of the 20/21 leave year.  Further adjustments to this will only be considered in exceptional circumstances

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What happens if I become unwell while I am on furlough leave? 

You will remain on furlough leave if you become sick during the furlough period.  Please advise your manager if you become unwell when you are keeping in touch with them and follow normal sickness reporting procedures on your return to work.  

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What do I write in my out of office message and say in my voicemail? 

If you are contacted regularly by email, we suggest that you add an out-of-office message to your email, such as  

Thank you for your message. 

I am currently on 'furlough' under the UK Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. 

I am due to return to my role on [date], OR I do not know yet what date I will return to work. In the meantime, please contact [name and contact details of most appropriate contact] on [contact email address]. 

Please note, if your request is related to a Freedom of Information enquiry, please contact imps@reading.ac.uk

[Your name] 

You can adapt this message for your Teams voicemail.

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Can I keep in touch with colleagues, or access online training and wellbeing support?  

You can keep in touch with your manager and friends at work while you are on furlough leave, however you cannot and should not undertake anything that is work related. 

During your furlough leave you can still access the on-line training for staff, so you may be able to use some of your time to develop your personal or professional skills.  UoRLearn can be accessed via: https://uorlearn.sabacloud.com  

You will be able to access all the same support services as you would if you had been working. You can access the information via the Wellbeing pages where there is a lot of support for both physical and mental wellbeing. 

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What happens about my Tier 2 visa when I am on furlough leave? 

Tier 2 sponsored skilled workers can be placed on furlough leave without a negative impact to their immigration status provided that any reduction is part of a company-wide policy and is not discriminatory against sponsored workers. 

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