The government and employers are being urged to support people who changed jobs last month and are therefore not covered by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).
Businesses can use the CJRS to claim for 80% of employees' wages by putting them on furlough. The move was announced last month to protect jobs, but to prevent fraud, employees must have been on payroll before or on 28 February, leaving people who changed jobs in March in limbo. Nearly 70,000 people have signed a petition for the date to be amended.
Acorn Award-winner Rhiannon Heseltine had been with her previous employer for seven years before she accepted a more senior role with a different contract caterer in December 2019. She completed her three-month notice period and was due to start her new job on 16 March.
She had arrived at the train station close to her new office when she received a call telling her not to come in. Three days later her probation was terminated.
"I didn't know what to do, I was beside myself," she said, speaking to The Caterer. "How have I gone from a good role, a good salary, something that was going to be the next step in my career, to nothing, within three days?"
She said she is lucky that she has savings but is now having to use that money to support herself with no income simply due to "bad luck".
"We all have the documentation, we've got proof," she said, "we need people in the industry to support us and speak up on our behalf and go ‘yes we've employed them, we want them to be in our workplace'."
She said her old employer wants to help but legislation isn't clear, and pointed out that, even when businesses do reopen, she will be competing for jobs with all those left in the same situation, with application processes potentially taking months.
Having previously worked front of house at Fuller's Bull hotel in Bridport, Dorset, Lucy Craig started her new role at another hotel on 16 March – the day the Prime Minister advised the British public to avoid pubs, bars and restaurants. She was told not to come into work that evening as there weren't enough hours due to the number of cancellations.
When it was clarified that ex-employers could legally take former employees back on to furlough if they had been employed prior to 28 February, she contacted Fuller's, but was turned down.
Liis Raidla, meanwhile, left her role at a family-owned restaurant on 1 March to join a new restaurant in Glasgow the next day as a chef de partie. She said she has been let go by the restaurant, which cannot furlough her, has advised her to apply for Universal Credit, and said she is welcome to reapply when the site reopens but with no guarantee of a job. Her previous employer also declined to furlough her.
A spokesperson for UKHospitality said: "The design of the Job Retention Scheme means that some employers – those who have changed jobs recently, or seasonal workers – are missing out at a crucial time. We are in near constant talks with the government to try to secure as much support for the sector, and its workers, as possible."