Human Resources,Online Learning

Can Furloughed Employees Complete Training and Qualifications?

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One important part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been puzzling some of the best minds in human resources since it was announced at the end of February.

Furlough.

A concept alien to UK employment law, it’s had human resources professionals up and down the country scrambling for their dictionaries.

Specifically, the rules about what an employee can and can’t do whilst they’re furloughed have created a coronavirus-tinged headache for many working in HR. Most HR professionals understand the basic tenets of furlough – that an employee cannot provide services that make money for their company during the time they are off – but there’s a lot of confusion about some of the finer points of the policy, specifically about how businesses can use this time productively, if they cannot work. 

Asking employees to complete training and qualifications whilst they’re furloughed has been one solution that many businesses have adopted to help them make the best of a bad situation.

But can furloughed employees complete training and qualifications and not fall foul of the restrictions?

The short answer is: yes, employees can complete training and qualifications while furloughed, even if they’re company funded.

Here's what you need to know to stay on the right side of the law.


 

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What can’t employees do on furlough?

First of all, let’s look at what the government’s legal advice actually says, which you can find here.

The law states that whilst on furlough, an employee cannot carry out any task or service for a company that enables it to make money – a pretty broad statement.

In its guidance, the government says that:

“You cannot ask your employee to do any work that: makes money for your organisation or any organisation linked or associated with your organisation; provides services for your organisation or any organisation linked or associated with your organisation”

This guidance can be interpreted quite widely but in summary, furloughed employees cannot:

  • Complete any task or activity that makes money for your company.
  • Provide services to your company.

Follow these two rules and you’ll be staying on the right side of furlough law.


 

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What can employees do on furlough?

According to the guidance, there is one really productive activity that employees can do whilst they’re furloughed though – they can study! That can be company-funded, or it can be personal study.

The government advice says:

“Furloughed employees can engage in training, as long as in undertaking the training the employee does not provide services to, or generate revenue for, or on behalf of their organisation or a linked or associated organisation.”

The same advice goes on to state:

“Furloughed employees should be encouraged to undertake training.”

So, there you have it in black and white. The UK government actually recommends that furloughed staff be encouraged to complete training whilst they’re furloughed.


What training and qualifications can employees complete from home?

Now we know that employees can complete training and qualifications when they’re furloughed, it's probably a good idea to take care of the practicalities – i.e. what specific types of training and qualifications can they complete?

The answer to this question depends entirely on your imagination and research skills. Thanks to the internet and the growth of digital communication over the last decade, more and more training courses and qualifications can be completed at home.

There are two key types of this type of learning: online qualifications and online courses.


 

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Online qualifications

These are the gold standard in online learning.

Online qualifications are just like the ones that you’d take at an educational establishment, like a school or university, except they’re completely virtual. Instead of attending a class in a bricks-and-mortar setting, you’ll learn from your living room (or any location with internet access) with your laptop.

Online qualifications are great if you want to seriously develop the capabilities of your employees and improve the quality of your operations over the long-term. Whilst they might be more capital-intensive than other forms of training to begin with, online qualifications can bring impressive rewards over time in terms of employee retention, productivity, innovation and job satisfaction.

That’s because accredited qualifications benefit both the employee and the company long-term, developing an employee’s credibility and career as well as the skills they’ll use in their role.

Pros

  • They give your employees a recognised qualification, enhancing their skills in line with established professional standards
  • They can significantly improve the quality of operations at a company over time
  • They can motivate employees, improving job retention and satisfaction
  • They can improve employee productivity

Cons

  • They take longer to complete – usually around 8 to 24 months
  • They can be more expensive that short courses
  • Results can take a few months to show

Examples:

Level 5 CIPD Diploma in Human Resources Management

Level 7 AAT Professional Diploma in Accounting

Prince 2 Foundation in Project Management


 

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Online courses

Non-accredited online courses are great if there’s a specific skill or piece of knowledge that you’d like your employee to master and you don’t need them to cover an entire qualification syllabus to learn it.

In short, online courses are good for improving a small area of your employee’s skill set or knowledge, rather than everything about the way they work.

Online courses are usually shorter than online qualifications, typically running anywhere from 7 days through to 12 months. They’re also significantly cheaper.

Pros

  • They provide information about a specific area of a subject
  • They can be completed within a few months or up to a year
  • They are cheaper than other types of qualification

Cons

  • They are not as detailed as other types of study
  • They don’t provide general information on a subject
  • Results can take a few months to show

Examples:

  • Health and Safety Certificate
  • Adobe Creative Cloud training
  • Sage Accounts training

So, to summarise, yes – furloughed employees can complete training and qualifications during furlough. Focusing on improving the skills and knowledge of your employees and investing in their development during the current lockdown will enable your company to emerge more flexible, more resilient, and stronger than ever.


 

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