Shops ask furloughed staff 'to check stores and clear shelves'

Furloughed staff from Sports Direct and Harveys claim they are being pressured to secretly do stock-takes and clear shelves in shut stores despite being officially off work and paid by the government

  • Managers have been told to return to stores and prepare stock for online sales
  • Some have been in stores for 14 hours and travelled more than 25 miles
  • Whistle-blowers claim they were asked to do the work despite being on furlough 
  • Have you been asked to return to work while on furlough? Email: [email protected] 

Sports Direct and Harveys have been accused of claiming money from the taxpayer while secretly sending furloughed employees into work.

Senior managers have set up private Whatsapp groups where they order staff members to visit shuttered stores and clear shelves, so stock can be sent back to the distribution centre for sale online.

Some managers have alleged they have been asked to work 14 hour days, despite having their wage covered by the government, and travel more than 25 miles to check stock despite the lockdown.

The furlough scheme – which is predicted to cost $42billion in the first three months according to the Office for Budgetary Responsibility – clearly states that employees signed onto it should not be called into work.

And this afternoon Her Majesty’s treasury warned that payments would be withheld from businesses if their claims are found to be based on fraudulent or inaccurate information.

Sports Direct, owned by billionaire Mike Ashley (pictured watching Newcastle United in February this year), have allegedly asked managers to secretly return to work

Managers were asked to volunteer to return to stores and not to clock on. Many shops in the UK remain shuttered under coronavirus restrictions

Sports Direct, owned by billionaire Mike Ashley, has been accused of sending furloughed managers back in to work.

Instructions sent to managers, and seen by MailOnline, tell them not to clock in when visiting a store before ordering them do a checklist, cash collection and ensure orders are moved to the delivery bay.

It finishes flippantly with: ‘Ensure social distancing is adhered to at all times.’

Whistle-blowers have said they are being asked to remove stock from shelves for transfer to the warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, so that it can be sold online. 

One furloughed manager told MailOnline they had to work a 14-hour day with another member of staff packing up items for the digital store.

Another said they have been asked to come in despite being furloughed to prepare stock for sale online.

‘I have not been given much of a choice,’ they said. ‘Pressure was applied for me to come by Whatsapp manager group for me to come into store and participate with other managers.’

At least four managers said they have been asked to come in despite being furloughed. The Guardian has reported a further two managers being asked to come in. 

A delivery van pictured outside the Sports Direct store in Fulham on April 15. It appeared to be collecting stock for online sale

How much will furlough scheme cost? 

The scheme could cost as much as £42billion in the first three months, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility has said.

Under the policy, companies can apply to the government to get 80 per cent of employees wages covered up to £2,500 a month.

140,000 companies have so far applied, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said, as they furlough some 8 million workers.

The scheme may be extended beyond its cut off date in June due to continued social distancing, meaning it could cost considerably above the current estimate.

An unmarked van was pictured outside Sports Direct’s store in Fulham, London, on April 15, as workers loaded stock into the vehicle from the shop’s  backdoor.

‘I was woken early on April 15 to the familiar sound of rattling of cages which normally takes place three times a week outside my house,’ a neighbour told MailOnline.

‘That morning they used an unmarked lorry.’

Sports Direct owns 600 stores in the UK and is thought to be claiming millions through the government’s furlough scheme.

Harveys and Bensons for Beds, owned by European retail investor Alteri, have also been accused of telling managers to come into stores while on furlough – sometimes forcing them to travel more than 25 miles during lockdown.

The business has allegedly set up a private Whatsapp group where senior bosses order store managers to check on shops despite being off work.

‘Managers are very upset and feeling as though they are being put at risk,’ one source told MailOnline.

‘We are pestered in the chat if we don’t go. And if we cannot, the regional manager organises others to go in our place.

‘We are supposed to be isolating and not travelling around on these journeys.’

Harveys has also been accused of asking furloughed managers to still check on stores. Employees have claimed they are pestered if they do not go

A message sent to Sports Direct employees

The government’s furlough scheme clearly states staff on the project should remain at home.

The furlough scheme’ rules state: ‘To be eligible for the grant when on furlough, an employee cannot undertake work for, or on behalf, of the organisation or any linked or associated organisation. This includes providing services or generating revenue.’

A message sent to Harveys employees

A spokesman for Her Majesty’s Treasury said: ‘When on furlough, an employee cannot undertake work for, or on behalf, or the organisation or any linked or associated organisation. This includes providing services or generating revenue.

‘HMRC will check claims made through the scheme and may withhold payments if they are based on fraudulent or inaccurate information.’

A portal has also been set up where employees can report suspected fraud to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. 

MailOnline has contacted Sports Direct and Harveys for comment. 

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