Ask Sheri

Furloughs - What Are My Rights?

May 2nd, 2017

My organization recently announced that in place of layoffs, they will be providing furloughs to all employees. The furloughs will be held monthly, until further notice, and all employees are forced to take off work, unpaid, at least five consecutive days each month. Although I'm disappointed, I have to say this is better than losing my job completely. However, what exactly are my rights? What will happen to my benefits? Can I collect unemployment? Please help! They gave us notice just last week and mentioned these furloughs will go into effect as soon as May 4, 2009.

Sheri's Response

It appears your employer is attempting to salvage employee jobs by opting for the furlough approach. Believe it or not, this route is becoming more and more popular these days. I commend your organization in first "cutting back" on payroll, versus administering a total reduction-in-force. In this economy, most employers are quickly slashing payrolls for immediate cost reduction. Having said this, I'm quite curious as to the communication methods with the employee base? You mentioned that the five days/month needed to be consecutive, however can each employee take whichever week during the month they choose? Although this would be most employee-friendly, I'm uncertain as to how a business can operate in this fashion. Was the Human Resources department involved in sharing the news? The reason I ask, is that your HR Department should've advised you as to how your benefits may be affected by the reduced schedule. Most contracts between medical insurance providers and employers mandate an employee work at least 30 (some 37) hours per week to be eligible for coverage. I'm assuming this has been verified and that employees will be exempt from this burden. I would advise you to check into this with your HR/Benefits Manager to avoid any lapse in personal/family coverage. Although your vacation, personal or PTO bank (if accrued) may also be negatively affected during your furlough time, I would withhold filing the complaint.

Relative to unemployment, you can collect state unemployment following each week of unpaid time. The state does recognize furloughs as a form of "unemployment". You cannot however decide to work any side jobs or temporary jobs during this week off, or it would pull you out of unemployment status. There is one caveat to filing for unemployment: you need to file for unemployment within one week of being out of work, or you may lose the ability to collect. So don't delay. Your employer may not share all of this information with you, as the more employees that file, the higher their employer tax. Filing for unemployment today is easy, as it's all handled online. Once you enroll, every month will be quickly administered through the same account, within the same system. You will have to log in each time however.

With the recession in full force, each and every business is merely figuring out how to survive. As an employee, it is your job to continue being productive and reliable, as it will take these "collective employee efforts" in which keep organizations afloat. Hopefully you work amongst a receptive HR department who will hear out all employee concerns and generate responses both quickly and honestly, even if what is being communicated is negative. In the end, with our record unemployment rates, you are considered fortunate to be receiving a furlough.