Furlough: What It Is And Examples

By Chris Kolmar - Dec. 10, 2020

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With a global pandemic continuing to loom over our heads for months now, the topic of job security is on everyone’s mind. Maybe you’ve had to take a break from working and are worried about what the future holds. Or perhaps you’re stressed because you don’t want to be laid off from the position you’re currently working.

You’re not alone. While some people can work remotely during these trying times, many simply don’t have jobs that allow for that.

Unfortunately, the pandemic’s economic impact has wreaked havoc on thousands of companies, industries, and small businesses. Even worse, many of these businesses have had no choice but to go through with temporary closures to protect people from COVID-19.

Given that, there is an inevitable effect on the employees who work at these companies. Many people have been laid off or continue to work under potentially hazardous conditions. However, some companies may instead suspend most of their employees’ work and send them home for a specific period of time without pay.

This temporary period of unpaid leave is called a furlough, and due to the impact of the virus, they are becoming increasingly common. Being furloughed is not pleasant but also not permanent. With that in mind, this article will talk about the most critical aspects of furlough and how it differs from being laid off.

The Basics: What Is a Furlough?

Receiving a furlough means that you’ve been temporarily suspended from work. Unfortunately, this suspension does not include pay.

The length of time a furlough lasts varies, as it can be as brief or as long as the employer wants. However, be aware that people who get furloughed are typically allowed to return to their job after this suspension period.

Keep in mind that companies consider furloughs to be mandatory. In general, even if you’re not paid during the furlough, you’ll still keep your employment benefits, such as health insurance. At the same time, you’ll be expected not to do anything work-related on behalf of your employer while you’re on furlough.

Especially during times of economic crisis, furloughs can come from both public and private institutions. These organizations choose to furlough employees as a cost-saving measure when they don’t want to lay people off, while also lacking the funds to pay everyone appropriately.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought this topic to the forefront. The mix between the negative economic impact, nonessential public employees being told not to go to work, and consumers choosing not to go to public places has caused many companies to consider furloughs. Considering that, you’re not alone if you find yourself dealing with this new situation.

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Furlough vs. Layoff

If you’ve received a furlough, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been laid off or worry that you’ll have to start job hunting. However, there are a few key differences between furloughs and layoffs. These differences include:

  • You’ll be able to return. Unlike being laid off, when you’re under furlough, there is an expectation that you’ll be able to return to work at your current company. Typically, your employer will give you a specific return date or outline the conditions that will allow you to return. In this way, you’re not fired and instead on leave without pay.

  • You get to keep your benefits. Even while you’re furloughed, you’ll retain your worker’s benefits. Most notably, you should have access to any health and life insurance during the furlough.

  • You still have employment rights. During a furlough, you cannot be fired or replaced without process. You still have your job, so you have a presumptive right to return to your current position if you choose to.

  • Furlough is less complicated. Laying off employees can be time-consuming and expensive because of the paperwork and due process required. On the other hand, when you’re furloughed, it’s a relatively simple process, and once able, you’ll be able to return with ease.

Remember that your employer doesn’t want to fire you. Instead, they may not be able to pay you, or current restrictions have required them to reduce the number of staff. By furloughing you, they’re indicating that they still want you to work for the company.

In addition, laying off multiple employees can be an extraordinary expense and disrupt the company. Not to mention the fact that the employer would have to rehire an entirely new staff. Instead, they opt to suspend the employees temporarily they wish to keep in the future.

No Work Rule

Hearing that there’s a “no work rule” during furlough might fill you with panic at first, but remember that this rule usually only applies to the company you’re working for. This doesn’t mean that employers can’t enforce a rule stating that you can’t apply for other work as well, but the “no work rule” doesn’t automatically go that far.

Generally speaking, when you receive a furlough, you’ll be banned from doing anything work-related for your company. This is a zero-tolerance rule, as even a simple work-related phone call or email will be enough to break it.

Employers are serious about enforcing this rule because if an employee does any work while on furlough, they must pay them for working. Remember, they haven’t laid you off. Therefore, if an hourly employee works while on furlough, the employer must pay them for the time worked, and if a salaried employee works, they’ll be paid the equivalent of their salary for the entire day.

As a result, furloughed employees usually have access to work-related accounts revoked. Doing so prevents employees from triggering a payment obligation from the company.

What Are Your Employee Rights?

If the idea of not being able to work stresses you out, be aware that furloughed employees have the right to seek new employment. By putting you on furlough, your employer has accepted the risk that the process will cause you to find a job elsewhere.

Due to the financial strain caused by the nature of a furlough, many employees consider taking temporary jobs during the time they aren’t allowed to work for their current company. Before you consider this option, be sure to carefully research rules against outside employment and/or second jobs, as your employer is free to enforce these policies even during the furlough. This doesn’t mean that you can’t choose to leave your job in search of something more financially stable, but researching your company’s policies first is the best move.

If you’re a public employee struggling with the ongoing pandemic, the Office of Personnel Management has stated explicitly that “rules regarding outside employment continue to apply when an individual is furloughed.” With that in mind, you should consider your options. If you have finances built up, you may want to endure the furlough, but it’s okay to look for a different job if you need money now.

As a furloughed employee, you might also want to consider requesting unemployment benefits for your time without pay. Even if the federal government has furloughed you, unemployment is provided by each individual state. It does not suffer a budgetary lapse in the case of a federal government shutdown. For many, receiving unemployment serves as a worthwhile option when trying to survive a furlough.

However, not every employee can pursue this option. Because unemployment varies per state, each state has individual rules for collecting unemployment. This includes potential waiting periods for collecting benefits and a requirement that the applicant shows an active job search.

Sometimes, one or both of these requirements may disqualify a furloughed worker. Regardless, you should still look into your state’s rules, as unemployment is often one of the best ways to maintain your current position, without risking financial ruin.

What Does Being Furloughed During a Pandemic Mean for You?

If you’re currently furloughed and concerned about your prospects during the pandemic, there are some things you should keep in mind. Whether you’re looking for a new job or applying for unemployment, remember that the government on the local, state, and federal levels can provide resources for workers like you.

Several states have provided extra COVID-19 stimulus money to their unemployment services and loosened the restrictions on applying for unemployment. To learn more, research your state’s unemployment website.

There has also been an influx of remote working positions, which you can research and apply for. Be mindful of your company’s furlough policies, but if you’re allowed to work, one of these remote positions can provide you with supplemental income.

Finally, If you’re a federal employee, Congress has historically paid all federal workers for the time they lost during a shutdown. Luckily, leadership from both the Democratic and the Republican parties in Congress has indicated that they will do so for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t Panic

Being furloughed can be a frustrating and nerve-racking process, especially if your current position serves as your financial lifeline.

Take a deep breath.

The best thing you can do is stay calm, research your current situation, and make a plan going forward. If you do that, you’ll get through the hardship of this pandemic, one step at a time.

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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