Being furloughed isn’t unheard of, but it’s not as common as being fired or laid off. When a company is on hard times, they’ll let people go rather than try to convince them to stay on the hook with the expectation of bringing them back soon. But what exactly does it mean to be furloughed and what kind of legal protections do you have if you have been furloughed? The employment law attorneys at Barrett & Farahany can explain.
What Does it Mean to Be Furloughed?
To be furloughed means that an employee is temporarily laid off or given a leave of absence from their job. It’s important to know which kind of furlough you are experiencing before you attempt to file for government assistance. Whether you’ve been laid off or put on a leave of absence matters.
It’s worth noting that the specifics of a furlough – such as its length and the benefits available to you – can vary widely depending on the company and the state’s labor laws.
Why Would You Be Furloughed?
You can be furloughed for various reasons, such as:
- The company experiencing less than stellar success
- Business slowdowns
- Company-wide cost-cutting measures
While a furloughed worker is not working or getting paid, they still technically remain an employee of the company.
How Is Being Furloughed Different From Being Fired or Laid-Off?
- Employment Status: When an employee is furloughed, they are still technically employees. They are just temporarily not working. In contrast, when an employee is fired or laid off, their employment is terminated.
- Reinstatement: Furloughed employees are expected to return to work once the furlough period is over. When they’re laid off or fired, there is no formal expectation of returning to work.
- Benefits: Depending on the company’s policy and/or the local labor laws, furloughed employees will continue to receive benefits like health insurance. In most companies and states, benefits cease when an employee is laid off or fired. They can be offered a continuation of health benefits through a program like COBRA, but you have to qualify for that.
- Perception: Being furloughed is often perceived as a less severe action than being laid off or fired. This is typically a response to circumstances beyond the employer’s control – such as an economic downturn – rather than a reflection of the employee’s performance.
Do You Have Any Restrictions on What You Can Do While Furloughed?
While furloughed, you’re technically still an employee of the company so there are some things you can’t do. The specific restrictions during this period can vary based on your employment contract and local labor laws, but here are some general points most employees should know about being furloughed:
- Outside Employment: Some companies allow furloughed employees to seek temporary outside employment, while others restrict it entirely. It’s important to review your employment agreement or speak with your HR department to understand what’s allowed. If you find another job while on furlough, you may be vulnerable to a lawsuit.
- Unemployment Benefits: Depending on your location, you may be ineligible to receive unemployment benefits while on furlough. This means you won’t receive financial help from the government.
- Company Resources: While furloughed, you typically won’t have access to company resources such as office space, equipment, or software, even if you had access during non-office hours.
- Communication: You might be expected to communicate or perform work-related activities during your furlough. While legally you have no obligation other than to be available to communicate about your furlough status, we know employers don’t always do what they’re supposed to.
What Protections Do Furloughed Employees Have?
Most laws connected to furloughed employees are controlled by local labor laws, not federal law. The only federal law that directly regulates furloughed employees is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), furloughed employees must not perform any work for the employer during the furlough period. This includes tasks like taking calls or checking and answering emails. Any violation of this could lead to legal implications for the employee and employer. If your employer tries to pressure you into working while on furlough, you need to contact an attorney.
If Your Employer is Trying to Take Advantage of Your Furlough Status, Get Legal Advice from the Employment Attorneys at Barrett & Farahany, LLP
If you feel that your employer is taking advantage of your furlough status or violating any of the legal protections mentioned above, it’s important to seek advice from a reputable employment attorney. This could mean not giving you the benefits you were promised or trying to strong-arm you into working on furlough. If you need to find work but your employer has made you believe that you can’t, you can have your employment contract reviewed.
At Barrett & Farahany, we have experienced attorneys who have vast experience in employment law and can advise you on your rights as a furloughed employee. Contact us today for help.