City firms and human rights practices are furloughing their lowest paid staff without topping up wages to 100%, meaning some workers are receiving less than the London Living Wage, a legal trade union has said.

Legal Sector Workers United (LSWU) said a number of firms across the legal sector have imposed the burden of Covid-19 disproportionately on the lowest paid, least secure members of staff, who often cannot work from home.

In some cases, firms are furloughing employees, including administrative assistants and paralegals, and are refusing to top up their salaries to 100%. In other cases, agency contracts have been suspended meaning law firms are no longer responsible for how or whether staff are paid.

A spokesperson for LSWU said: ‘This approach spans corporate firms to those whose work is directed at tackling inequalities and human rights abuses. We are concerned that staff salaries may be falling below the London Living Wage and that our members at the lower end of the professsion may struggle to make ends meet.

‘LSWU understands that firms are facing difficult financial choices, but believes that this distribution of financial loss is fundamentally unfair. In a crisis like this, those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden.’ The London Living Wage is currently £10.75 per hour. 

The union said it would consult with members over whether to publish names of firms who are failing to top up staff salaries. Under the government’s job retention scheme, employers can claim 80% of employees’ wages up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.