COVID-19: Keeping your staff’s skills sharp

You have shut down your show room. You have put your staff on furlough leave. Your employees have the reassurance that their extended leave will be paid through the coronavirus job retention scheme. You are concerned that their skills will become less sharp, and when your business re-opens, it may take a while for your staff to get fully up-to-speed. You may be thinking about introducing some new system and streamlining your company processes to maximise efficiency, which your employees will have to learn when your business is up and running again but learning new systems will take time.

Furlough leave does not mean that your staff are prevented from undertaking training. In fact, it may be an opportune time for your staff to upskill and learn new processes, or to take up training to keep their skills sharp and relevant.

Participating in training while on furlough leave will also keep your staff motivated and engaged. Training courses may help in coping with the challenges of living in a lockdown and maintaining social distancing. Participating in training and learning new things will keep the brain active and focused promoting good mental health. 

Providing training to your staff will not put the furlough grant in danger 

In fact, the official position of the Government is that furloughed employees should be encouraged to undertake training. The official guidance says that employees on furlough leave can engage in training, as long as in undertaking the training the employees do not provide services to, or generate revenue for, or on behalf of their organisation or a linked or associated organisation. 

Yesterday the Treasury issued direction to the HMRC under the Coronavirus Act 2020 on the scheme, which sets the rules the HMRC will apply in administering the scheme. The direction clarifies that training activities directly relevant to the employment are exempt from the general prohibition for furloughed staff to do any work for the employer.

Ultimately, all training relevant to the job will likely lead to an increase in revenue. That is the whole point of training, which the direction seems to acknowledge. 

The main critera to consider:
  • The training must not in itself be provision of service and cannot directly generate revenue. For example, asking your sales staff to learn a new system of processing orders placed online will be exempt, but processing a few real orders your customers may have placed will not comply with the requirements of the scheme.

  • The training must be directly relevant to the employment. Providing meditation or gardening courses to your sale staff, for example, is unlikely to be the permitted training.

Two more points: 
  • the training must be agreed between the employer and the employee in advance before it can be undertaken.
  • for the hours spent on training the furlough pay cannot be lower than the national minimum wage.

Good practice will be to keep the record of training your staff undertakes on furlough leave, which will also come handy for the periodic appraisals of your employees.


Authors: Kiril Moskovchuk

Published: 16 Apr 2020


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