If you’ve joined the legions of workers who’ve been furloughed due to the coronavirus pandemic, you may be experiencing anxiety and uncertainty about what that means for your immediate future.
You’re far from alone. Projections show the number of people seeking unemployment benefits may reach as high as 6.5 million by early April, following a record-setting filing of more than three million unemployment claims in the final week of March.
Understanding the difference between a furlough and a layoff can offer encouraging news if you fall into the furlough category. Being furloughed means that you technically still have a job but may have had your work hours drastically cut or, more likely, you’ve been placed on indefinite, unpaid leave.
As distressing as a furlough can be, it can be helpful to be proactive. A good starting point is knowing your rights under the recently passed federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and strategizing actions you can take to help find temporary financial relief, and chart a path forward.
Your Rights Under the New Federal Law
A major component of the $2 trillion CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, is to offer assistance to the millions of U.S. workers who have lost their income because of the pandemic. Here’s a capsule of what the new law covers for furloughed workers:
- Furloughed employees can apply for and collect unemployment. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the ability for furloughed employees to collect unemployment benefits was regulated largely at the state level. However, the $2 trillion CARES Act extends unemployment benefits to workers regardless of the state of their residency.
- Under Congress’ coronavirus stimulus package, broader new coverage called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance extends to many freelancers, contract workers, and self-employed people who may not have been previously covered. The measure offers emergency support to workers under a variety of scenarios who may have been directly or indirectly impacted by the pandemic.
- Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which extends to July 31, 2020, includes unemployment benefits that are calculated depending on your individual circumstances. The measure adds an additional $600 per week to fill the gap between the average paycheck and state unemployment benefits, for up to four months.
- The new legislation does not offer unemployment benefits to “individuals that can telework with pay,” and those receiving paid sick leave or other forms of paid leave benefits.
- The “no-work” rule prohibits furloughed employees from doing any work for their employer for the duration of their furlough.
Furlough Strategies to Consider
The coronavirus pandemic has thrust businesses and workers alike deep into uncharted territory. So much is still unknown, including the breadth, depth, and length of the pandemic, and what the employment landscape may look like down the road.
Thinking about the current July 31 deadline (when the CARES Act will expire if not extended) can be a good way to start the clock ticking for you, if you’ve been furloughed. Some things to consider are below.
Updates from Your Employer
When possible, some employers may keep furloughed employees up-to-date about whether and when they can come back to work. The federal Department of Labor sets strict guidelines governing how furloughs and other reductions in pay and hours must be implemented.
If you’re furloughed in ordinary circumstances, your employer may continue to provide health coverage, life insurance or other benefits. Under federal guidelines for COBRA, the federal health insurance continuation law, employers are legally obligated to give workers 30 days notice of termination or layoff. Given the deep uncertainty over the length and breadth of the pandemic, many businesses, for now, are furloughing workers only temporarily or “until further notice.”
Right to Seek Other Employment
You have the right to seek other employment while on furlough. But if you do have continued benefits like health coverage while on furlough, for example, you may want to compare the benefits of a prospective new job with those of the furloughed job.
In industries such as retail and hospitality where seasonal furloughs can be routine, employers often set conditions or a target date for when an employee can expect to return to work. However, you may want to consider the possibility of whether you may be laid off
Public vs. Private Industry
If you’re a private industry employee, the length of your furlough may depend on your employer’s assessment of whether and if/when your job will return. If you work in a financially strong industry, your employer may be able to offer assurances about your prospects for returning to your old job—or let you know if your chances of being rehired have diminished.
Typically, for public employees, it’s a different scenario. Because a public employee can’t be fired without due process, there’s usually a presumption of continued employment in the same job, or a similar one. That’s usually the case when federal employees are furloughed during a government shutdown, for example.
If you’re an independent contractor looking to qualify for the expanded unemployment benefits, you may be required to present documentation of your work record, such as a contract or pay documentation, including pay stubs.
What if You Don’t Act?
An operative concept in being on furlough is that it’s “temporary.” Literally, the definition of furlough is “a usually temporary layoff from work.” It can be helpful to take a proactive stance if you’re furloughed by looking for other work, for example, keeping in mind that the newly passed CARES Act is set to expire on July 31, 2020.
How long could you remain furloughed? That decision may be up to your employer, and whether (and how soon) they may be able to get their business back on track when the crisis subsides. Keep in mind that being furloughed doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get your job back.
A furlough that’s open-ended or goes on longer than expected may increase your chances of eventually being laid off. Remember that businesses of all sizes are in survival mode, and you should be too.
While the CARES Act makes nearly $350 billion in forgivable loans available to small businesses, it’s uncertain how many businesses may take advantage of the assistance to keep their businesses open and get workers back on the payrolls.
Freelance, Temporary, and Part-Time Job Options for Furloughed Workers
If you’re furloughed, freelance, temporary, and part-time jobs are great options to consider to help you fill the financial gap. Luckily, FlexJobs can help! We frequently post work-from-home positions that are fully remote!
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An important thing to remember through all of the sudden changes is that if you’re furloughed at work, it’s not your fault. Companies and industries are struggling, your performance isn’t. And, if you’re looking for work while furloughed, we’re offering up to 50% off new memberships. Use the code JOBS at checkout. All of the jobs on our site are fully vetted and verified, ensuring that you can connect with legitimate, flexible jobs.
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Adrianne Bibby is a staff writer at FlexJobs, the premier website for telecommuting, flexible schedule, and freelance job postings. Her writing focuses on work-balance issues, finding joy in your job, and using life experience to transition to a more meaningful,…Read More >
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