Over a third of companies in the UK have asked their staff to work despite being furloughed including some online estate agents, a survey of 2,000 furloughed employees has found.
The research, carried out by Oxford-based Crossland Employment Solicitors, discovered that 34% of full time employees it talked to who had been added to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme had been asked to work.
This included either doing their usual job or undertaking other work such as administrative tasks, while 20% had been asked to do someone else’s job or work for a company linked to their employer, which the rules forbid.
The research coincides with an announcement by HMRC that companies now have 30 days to confess to abuse of the furlough system or face penalties, and that directors of companies will be pursued personally.
“Until 1 July employers are only allowed to ask furloughed employees to undertake training, yet a third of the employees surveyed were asked to work, potentially making the company money and so increasing their profits and the government will pick up 80% of the employee’s wage and could potentially foot a bill of billions in fraudulent furlough wage claims,” says Beverley Sunderland, MD of Crossland.
“Like any fraud, this is a serious offence and an exploitation of employees. As it is fraud on the Treasury, employers could face hefty fines, be asked to pay past payments back, have any future payments withheld or even potentially face prison.”
The research also reveals that some employers are targeting their more vulnerable staff who are less likely to complain, such as those on work visas, and that more women than men were being approached.