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Coronavirus: What Can I Do As A Furloughed Employee?



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When you’re furloughed, there are very specific things that you can and can’t do, under the law.

But at the moment, there’s a lot of confusion in the UK about how to keep on the right side of furlough rules – driven by the fact that furlough is a new concept in UK employment.

The exact details can seem quite ambiguous, so we’ve put together a definitive guide on what you can do as a furloughed employee during the coronavirus pandemic.


Why is there limit on what I can do as a furloughed employee?

First of all, let’s deal with the reason why there are restrictions in the first place.

The limits on what you can do as an employee whilst furloughed are in place for your benefit – they reduce the risk of you being exploited by employers who might use a crisis to take advantage.

Some employers might tell their staff that they are on furlough and then expect them to complete work for them. This is unscrupulous, exploitative and illegal – it’s actually fraud.

Why? Well, the government is providing a grant to the business to cover the cost of your salary or wages, in the expectation that the particular worker will be unable to carry out their duties. If the business receives this money and then demands that you continue working as normal, they’re essentially pocketing free cash because your labour will be making money for them.

They’ll also likely be asking you to take a 20% pay cut at the same time (because, by law, the government will only cover 80% of the cost of your wages), so your boss will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Furlough only works if everyone abides by the same rules, and that means your company too. That’s why the government places restrictions on the type of activities that furloughed employees can take part in. It’s fairer for everyone involved.


Furlough: what you can and can’t do

During furlough, you’ll be prevented from doing particular things by the government.

Whilst you’re on furlough, you cannot:

  • Complete any work that contributes to making money for your employer
  • Provide any service to your employer, or an associated company

That doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything at all related to work, however.

Whilst you’re on furlough, you can:

  • Complete training courses, study or qualifications related to work – including training that’s funded by your company

The government guidance even makes a point of mentioning that furloughed employees should be encouraged to complete training and learning whilst they’re not working.



The growth of online learning

So, to spell things out, the only work-related activity you can legally do whilst you’re on furlough is study. And that’s not something to scoff at.

Having the time to learn is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted – many businesses struggle to fit vital training and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes around their day-to-day operations, so having the opportunity to devote all of your attention to learning something new should be something we all value.

Over recent years, there’s been an explosion in online learning, as distance learning evolves and adapts to the development of digital technology.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the isolation and restrictions on movement that it’s caused, has led to a surge in people learning online, from their own homes. Some of the world’s largest providers of online courses have reported an eight-fold increase in enrolments since the pandemic started to bite in Europe and the US in March, for instance.

You could argue that the growth in online learning that we’re currently seeing reflects the fact that people want to make productive use of the time that they’re stuck at home. And that makes sense. Online learning gives you the chance to focus your attention on a structured activity that will improve your skills, knowledge or experience of a particular subject. It implicitly makes you think of the future and the fact that, eventually, this strange situation will pass.

Online learning then, offers an escape from the boredom, monotony and anxiety of lockdown, whilst also enabling you to develop your career in a post-pandemic world.

There are two types of online learning, which are broadly related to the intensity of study that you’re looking for:

  • Online courses
  • Online qualifications


Online courses

Online courses are usually short courses that are focused around one specific piece of information, skill or specialism. They’re useful when it comes supplementing your existing knowledge, rather than completely overhauling it.

Online courses are available on a huge range of topics. Do a quick search for ‘online courses’ and you’ll find everything from Cat Grooming 101 through to Employment Law Masterclasses.

One of the main benefits of online courses is their affordability and their duration – they’re generally cheaper and shorter than other forms of online learning. This makes them a good investment if you'd to gain skills in a narrow subject area, such as Facebook advertising or financial forecasting.

This can be their achilles heel though, particularly if you’re looking to immerse yourself in a broader topic and upgrade your skills across every aspect of the subject, as you would by studying a qualification.


  • Can fit around your life and be completed anywhere with an internet connection
  • More affordable than other types of study
  • Good for helping you learn a specific piece of information or master a specific skill


  • Unaccredited courses aren’t usually recognised by employers or education institutions
  • They generally don’t cover a complete subject
  • You can’t usually access personal support from a tutor

Online qualifications

Online qualifications provide a more in-depth learning experience. They’re essentially the same as the qualifications that you would study at school, college or university.

The obvious difference is (yes, you guessed it) that they’re completed online, rather than in a physical classroom. This makes them an excellent way to develop your career prospects without having to leave your home or put your current commitments on the back-burner to undertake full-time classroom study.

A wide range of professional bodies offer accredited online qualifications now, from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the human resources sector, through to the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) in the accounting and bookkeeping field.

Online qualifications from bodies such as these are often recognised globally by employers and provide exactly the same skills, knowledge and expertise that you’d expect from a qualification studied in a traditional setting.


  • Gives you an accredited recognised qualification that can develop your career
  • Can be completed anywhere with an internet connection
  • Provides in-depth detail about a broad topic


  • Can cost more than unaccredited study
  • They may take longer to complete
  • Juggling study and other commitments can be difficult

Developing your career during lockdown

When you think about it, the combination of lockdown and furlough actually creates a great environment to develop your career in. Being forced to isolate from your friends and family and stay in the house can give you more time to focus on studying and improving your skills and knowledge.

With there being little else in the way of work-related activities that you’re allowed to do whilst you’re on furlough, studying a course or qualification relevant to your job can be a great way to keep yourself entertained and develop your career prospects.


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