Store managers working for Sports Direct and House of Fraser outlets have have been asked to work at least once a week despite having been furloughed, it has been alleged.
Staff working for Sports Direct and House of Fraser – both owned by businessmen Mike Ashley – told the Guardian newspaper last week that they had been asked to volunteer to go into stores for one day a week since the entire store team were put on furlough.
Under the government’s furlough rules, employees cannot undertake work for the employer they’ve been furloughed by. However, it is possible for staff to be furloughed for a period then reintroduced to work for a period then furloughed again. But this is only allowable in blocks of a minimum of three weeks.
It is alleged in the Guardian that two managers had been asked not to clock in when they worked in stores while on furlough – in breach of the rules of the scheme. They told reporters they had been asked to pack up store stock so it could be returned to the group’s warehouse and sold online.
Coronavirus and the workplace
The newspaper has also reported that last week staff were requested to return to work full time on Monday. In a conference call and messages to workers, seen by Guardian journalists, the Frasers Group asked Sports Direct and House of Fraser managers to return from furlough full time on Monday on 90% pay.
They were told they were required in stores 10 hours a day for at least five days a week to return stock to the retail group’s warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, so that it could be sold online and to prepare stores for physical distancing measures for when they are allowed to reopen. It is thought that the company has halted these plans since the Guardian learned of them.
Frasers Group has not yet offered a comment on the stories.
HMRC’s rules on furlough state: “To be eligible for the grant when on furlough, an employee cannot undertake work for, or on behalf, of the organisation or any linked or associated organisation. This includes providing services or generating revenue.”
Chris Cook, partner and head of employment & data protection at SA Law told Personnel Today: “If Sports Direct and House of Fraser are pressurising their staff to work once a week, they are not only risking their managers’ health, but will also end up having to fund all of the managers’ salaries themselves, as they will no longer be eligible for the CJRS.
“If they subsequently make a claim for those that continue to work, the companies will risk being prosecuted of fraud. When an employee is placed on furlough leave they must agree in writing not to carry out any work, and therefore employees can, and should, refuse to work and comply with the terms of this written agreement.”