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I have been an employee at the company for over 5-year and I had requested time off work (4-months) to do sabbatical with some travelling. It was granted by my line manager. The request was made in person and then finalised in email.

However, fast-forward to now and due to the coronavirus pandemic, I have had to return home early from my travels, at great financial cost. As such, I am keen to start working again as soon as possible and can do so from home with ease. FYI, before leaving I was working from home once a week anyway!

I having had a call with my line manager, he says it won't be possible to return before the original return date, almost 2-months away. I am certain that in any normal situation (e.g. sans corona) they would be pleased to have me back early. After all, there was a reluctance to let me go in the first place. When I pressed him on why, I was told my pay wasn't in the budget for April and due to corona they were already down in their P&L.

However, the UK government is willing to reimburse companies pay 80% of people's wages if the coronavirus has stopped them from working, so this seems a weak reason.

Either way, this leaves me in a very strange situation: I am employee but I am not being payed.

Therefore my questions are as such:

  1. Can my company legally stop me from returning to work, if it is not from something such as illness, etc? Alternatively, there is a mechanism in place that can allow me to return to work earlier?

  2. If I am not allowed to return to work, what does this mean for my employment status? If I was unemployed I could claim certain benefits, however, I would consider myself employed so I feel rather in limbo right now!

Any advice on this would be REALLY appreciated.

TL;DR

  • I requested 4-months leave
  • I have asked to start again 2-months early
  • I am being denied that
  • Do I have a right to start again early?/Are they obligated to allow me to return early?

Outcome

It seems that I am in a rather strange, but probably not entirely unique position, so I will detail some findings for those that might find them useful.

My employment status remains "Employed", as suggested in the answers. However, I wrongly assumed this excludes me from claiming Universal Credits. As I am not current earning I can still apply (in fact you can apply if you are earning, that just take this into accounts and give you less). Hopefully this is useful to someone else in my position.

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    Not enough for an answer (and I think Dale M covers it succinctly) but the 80% wage cover isn't "for people who can't work" it's for employee's who would otherwise have been made redundant, which right now isn't you. – motosubatsu Mar 30 at 9:26
  • "This applies to employees who have been asked to stop working, but who are being kept on the pay roll." which could be interpreted as my situation. However, after reading further it states that it does not include those currently on unpaid leave. – TheAnonUK Mar 30 at 11:11
  • The wording I used in my comment came from my Accountancy firm and actually looking at gov guidance you're right it doesn't appear to be that specific. Unfortunately you're also right in that those on unpaid leave since before 28/02/2020 aren't eligible. – motosubatsu Mar 30 at 11:19
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No, they are not obliged to take you back early

As you say in your TL;DR you arranged 4 months leave and your employer no doubt made arrangements to deal with your absence. Now, you want to return early; they are not obliged to allow you to do so just as you would not be obliged to do so if they wanted you to cut your leave short.

No doubt the current pandemic has changed the situation and in its absence, they might have been more willing to have you back early. But then, you wouldn't want to be coming back early.

Your employment status is that you are employed and on leave. Subject to the details of your employment contract; there is nothing stopping you taking another job - there is a huge demand for logistics workers particularly in the health sector at the moment; much of it unskilled work. dIf you want to be unemployed, you can always resign.

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  • This is exactly what I was expecting. I was hoping for a bit more understanding of the law in this, however. Thank you nonetheless! – TheAnonUK Mar 30 at 11:04

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