The coronavirus crisis has seen employees across the UK enter into the government furlough scheme.
But according to a new survey, more than a third of furloughed employees have been asked to carry out work by their bosses.
This is in direct contravention of the rules, as employers can only claim money from the £60bn furlough scheme if staff cannot work during the pandemic.
Furloughed employees continue to work
The study, carried out by Crossland Employment Solicitors, suggests that 34 per cent of employees have been asked to return to work. This is either doing their usual job or taking on more administrative tasks.
While on furlough, one in five employees have been asked to either cover someone else's job or to work for a company linked to their employer.
The research, which surveyed 2,000 employees in manufacturing, construction, accounting, IT, marketing and PR, found the split between small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and larger companies breaking the rules was fairly equal.
The furlough scheme is one of the biggest single up-front costs to the Treasury and any breaking of the rules is fraud.
The scheme was introduced in order to avoid wide-scale unemployment as some businesses had to temporarily close under the lockdown. The scheme covers 80 per cent of staff salaries up to £2,500 each.
The government recently announced plans to give employers 30 days to confess any furlough fraud, after concerns that the system was being abused.
Legislation is also set to come into place in order to give powers to impose penalties, alongside pursuing directors of insolvent companies personally.
‘This is a serious offence and an exploitation of employees’
Beverley Sunderland, managing director of Crossland, which carried out the survey, explained: "Like any fraud, this is a serious offence and an exploitation of employees.
"As it is fraud on the Treasury then an employer could be imposed with a hefty fine, asked to pay past payments back, have any future payments withheld or even potentially face prison."
"Since the coronavirus job retention scheme was launched eight weeks ago, we've received an avalanche of calls to our office from worried employees, all unrelated to our own clients and many with the same story, 'I've been furloughed but my employer has asked me to keep working,” adds Ms Sunderland.