These are your rights if you’re furloughed

The coronavirus crisis has resulted in the furlough of thousands of employees. Here’s what that really means.

These are your rights if you’re furloughed

A furlough isn’t the same thing as a layoff.

With much of the country undergoing self-quarantine during the still-developing COVID-19 crisis, a lot of people are home from work. But that doesn’t mean everyone is working from home—in fact, 281,000 people filed for unemployment between March 8 and 14 alone. “The coronavirus is uncharted territory. States are attempting to stop the spread of the virus by restricting gatherings, which is affecting businesses,” says Matthew Coffman, employment attorney with Columbus, Ohio-based firm Coffman Legal. “Here, the largest local restaurateur furloughed 4,500 employees.” 

Companies including Marriott, Delta, and Mattress Firm have also furloughed thousands of employees, with more certain to follow. But what is a furlough, and what are your rights if you’re on the receiving end of one? Here’s a quick overview.

Furlough 101

First, a furlough isn’t the same thing as a layoff. When someone is laid off, there is usually no expectation that they will return to work for their employer. But in the case of a furlough, the opposite is true—when the furlough is over, they will be able to return to their regular jobs. They can also expect to keep benefits (such as health insurance) during a furlough. 

“A furlough is more of a situation where the employer intends to retain all employees, but it just cannot afford to pay everyone at the current time,” Coffman says. 

That second part is key: During a furlough, you will not be paid. And because you will not be paid, you are not allowed to work. In fact, you may even have your access to things like work email revoked, because businesses are legally obligated to pay employees who break the “no work” rule.

What are your rights?

A furlough can go on for as long as the employer chooses. In a government furlough, federal employees usually only have to wait until Congress passes a budget for the next fiscal year (you may have seen some headlines about furloughs during last year’s government shutdown). But in the case of the current coronavirus-driven lapses affecting thousands of private employees, we still don’t know quite how long furloughs could last.

Fortunately, furloughed employees are still eligible to receive unemployment benefits. While each state has its own rules for administering these benefits, many are waiving waiting periods and other requirements (like being engaged in a job search) typically needed to start receiving them. Just bear in mind that if your job offers back pay when the furlough ends, you may be required to pay back any unemployment benefits. Get familiar with the expanded unemployment insurance guidelines announced by the U.S. Department of Labor in the wake of COVID-19.

Start searching

Furloughed workers have every right to find a new job. One option is to seek temporary employment during a period of furlough, but first check with your employer (some may have rules disallowing this). That said, there is nothing preventing you from beginning a job search. Could you use some help with that? Join Monster for free todayAs a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Monster is here to help you get through this unprecedented time.

This article is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice. Always seek the advice of an attorney regarding any legal questions you may have.