More than a third of employees on furlough have been put under pressure by their bosses to work, a survey has found.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which ends in October, is costing the Treasury an estimated £60bn, and ministers have warned employers they will be committing fraud if furloughed staff were forced to work.
However, a survey by Crossland Employment Solicitors of 2,000 furloughed full-time staff employed across various sectors found that 34 per cent of employees had been asked to return, even though employers can only make furlough claims if their staff can’t work because of the pandemic.
A third of furloughed employees were asked to continue doing their usual job, while 29 per cent were told to carry out more administrative tasks.
Twenty per cent have been asked to either cover someone else’s job or work for a linked company.
The government recently announced plans to give employers 30 days to admit to any furlough fraud, after fears the system was being abused.
Legislation is also set to be introduced granting powers to impose penalties and chase directors of insolvent companies.
The furlough scheme was introduced to avoid wide-scale unemployment as businesses shut under the lockdown and covers 80 per cent of staff salaries up to £2,500 each per month.
Treasury figures revealed on Tuesday that £20.8bn had been claimed covering 9.1 million jobs, and Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts predict the entire scheme will cost £60bn.
Beverley Sunderland, managing director of Crossland, said: ‘Like any fraud, this is a serious offence and an exploitation of employees.
“As it is fraud on the Treasury then an employer could be imposed with a hefty fine, asked to pay past payments back, have any future payments withheld or even potentially face prison.’
She added: ‘Since the scheme was launched, we’ve received an avalanche of calls to our office from worried employees, all unrelated to our own clients and many with the same story – “I’ve been furloughed but my employer has asked me to keep working”‘.
In one example, a manufacturing business told a furloughed employee they’d still have to work, but with a 20 per cent pay cut, while another in the graphic design industry was asked to work one day a week so they could be paid their full salary.
Sunderland added: ‘We’ve had cases of employees working on a work permit in the professional services industry told they must continue working when furloughed or face being dismissed and asked to leave the country, furloughed employees in the appliance fitting business asked to carry out orders to justify the “money” they were being paid, and investment companies trying to use the scheme as an alternative to performance management – if an employee isn’t hitting target, they were furloughed or threatened with furlough.’
The furlough rules change from July, with bosses able to bring back employees on a flexible basis while still claiming for the hours not required.
In August, employers have to start covering pension contributions to employees, September will see the Treasury contribution drop from 80 per cent to 70 per cent and in October this reduces to 60 per cent, with the scheme finishing at the end of the month.
Companies have to make up the shortfall and furloughed employees will still be entitled to the 80 per cent level until the end of October.
A spokesman for HMRC, which is running the scheme, said it had received 3,079 reports from the public as of June 14, and urged any employee who thought their company was abusing the system to contact it.
He added: ‘This is taxpayers’ money and fraudulent claims limit our ability to support people and deprive public services of essential funding.’
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