Coronavirus: what does furlough actually mean?

The majority of Covid restrictions have been removed in English schools. Rules have also been eased elsewhere in the UK, but some measures are being retained for the moment.

Staff and students without symptoms in England are no longer asked to test for Covid twice-weekly. Secondary school pupils also don’t need to wear masks. The legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test is also being removed, although it is still recommended.

The information in the support article below was current at the time it was published. You may still find it useful for reference purposes.


We know that this will be a worrying time and you will be concerned about your role, income as well as supporting your pupils and wider school community. If you are an Edapt subscriber will we be able to support you throughout this crisis as well as when you eventually return to school.

We’re working round the clock to bring you the latest information and keeping you informed.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and anxious and need to talk to someone you can contact Education Support for 1-1 support and advice.

We look at what being furloughed means for those who work both in and outside of schools.

What does furlough mean?

Many of us have probably not heard of the term furlough before the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘furlough’ is a “leave of absence, especially that granted to a member of the armed services; to “grant [a] leave of absence to” and to “lay off (workers), especially temporarily.”

Even though the term has links to the armed services, being ‘furloughed’ is a real reality for many employees today. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, furloughing is being introduced to support businesses who have been hit by the coronavirus, and to prevent mass unemployment. It will attempt to temporarily pay the wages of those who can’t fulfil their job roles, and help companies to retain them as staff.

Businesses can claim 80% of their employees’ wages from the government, up to a maximum of £2,500 per person, per month before tax. The company can top up this pay if it chooses. It must write to affected employees to let them know they have been furloughed.

The scheme will operate for at least three months from 1 March, although reimbursements to companies will not start until at least the end of April.

To find out more about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme click here.

Can I be put on furlough?

Potentially yes, if your company can’t give you work to do because of the coronavirus outbreak.

You need to have been on the payroll of the company since at least 28 February 2020 and can be full time, part time, or on a flexible, zero-hour or agency contract. The minimum amount of time you can be furloughed for is three weeks, and you can be furloughed more than once.

If you have been made redundant since 28 February, your former employer can choose to rehire you under the furlough scheme. But employees hired for the first time after that date are not eligible for it.

Many people have complained the scheme does not extend to those who had already signed a contract or switched jobs after the 28 February cut-off date.

Can I work for my employer if I’ve been furloughed?

You can’t do any work for your employer if you have been furloughed.

Is my job guaranteed when furlough ends?

Companies are under no obligation to keep on any employees when they stop receiving furlough, although they cannot use these payments to subsidise redundancy packages.

The scheme will run until at least the end of May and the government has indicated it will be extended beyond that if necessary.

The hope is that by the time furlough ends, restrictions will have been lifted and businesses will be able to stand on their own two feet and start paying full salaries again.

What happens if I am a teacher?

Generally, if you teach in a maintained school you should not be furloughed and your pay should not be affected.

The government explains, that in state-funded schools, where schools have live assignments with contingent workers (supply teachers), and where the school is the workers’ employer, schools should continue to pay these workers from their existing school budgets and not furlough them.

Where schools have terminated contracts with supply teachers due to coronavirus (COVID-19) earlier than the original terms set out, and where the school was the workers’ employer under that contract, schools should reinstate these contracts on the terms previously agreed, as long as the contractor is not already accessing alternative support through another government support scheme.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme announced by the government is open to agency workers, therefore supply teachers can ask their agency to be placed on furlough leave in order that their agency can apply through the scheme. The agency will have to agree to this however as there is no entitlement to furlough leave.

If the agency agrees to furlough, then the supply teacher will not be able to carry out any work for that particular agency.

If a supply teachers works for multiple agencies then they can look to ask each agency on furlough leave.

If you are an Edapt subscriber and have been furloughed you can contact us for further advice and support.

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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.