More than a quarter of the UK workforce is now being supported by the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention scheme (CJRS) which is being phased down before it comes to an end on 31 October 2020.
Under the rules of the scheme, furloughed workers must not carry out any work for their employer. Even carrying out light administrative work or sending one email is against the rules of the scheme.
Unfortunately, the system has been found to be open to abuse, with reports suggesting that more than a third of furloughed employees have been asked by their employers to carry out work whilst receiving funds under the scheme.
HMRC is now beginning to tackle fraudulent furlough claims and is encouraging workers to report cases, in strict confidence, where they believe their employer is intentionally flouting the rules of the scheme.
Workers are understandably worried about resisting pressure by their employers to break the rules and carry out work whilst on furlough, especially at a time when they may be worried about their jobs and being dismissed for refusing to obey their employer’s order. Workers are also concerned about reporting their employer for wrongdoing for fear of being dismissed or treated unfavourably.
The law provides protection to workers who raise issues about certain kinds of misconduct by their employers. This protection applies when a worker makes a ‘protected disclosure’ (also known as ‘blowing the whistle’) and allows them to bring legal proceedings if they can show that they were dismissed or subjected to some other kind of detriment, such as bullying, as a result of making the disclosure.
A protected disclosure includes reporting that a crime has been or is likely to be committed or that an employer has not complied with a legal obligation. In order to be protected by law, the worker must have a ‘reasonable belief’ that a crime or breach of a legal obligation has occurred or is likely to occur and the disclosure must be made in the ‘public interest’.
A protected disclosure must be made in the correct way. Workers who have concerns about furlough fraud are advised to raise the issue with their employers in the first instance, either informally by discussing it with their line manager or HR, or formally by way of a written grievance. Providing a worker has a reasonable belief that their concerns are true, and their employer is not taking the matter seriously, they should then report the matter directly to the HMRC.
Workers should ensure they keep records and collect evidence to protect their position in bringing the appropriate legal action if necessary.
For more information and to find out how we can help you, please contact our Employment Team on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.