You’ve Been Furloughed – Now What?

Jill Granberry

*For the purposes of this article, we are only discussing non-federal employees.

Since March, most of us find ourselves using otherwise seldom-heard words more than ever. “Pandemic,” “shelter-in-place” and “essential workers” are just a few of these words that are now part of our everyday conversations. Another such word, “Furlough”, was typically associated with people affected in a government shutdown – but now it’s a part of our lives in a real way. If you have recently been furloughed and aren’t sure what your next move should be, here are a few ways to ensure you remain in a good position to find success in the new job market.

What Does “Furlough” Mean?
Furlough is a legal term that can be particularly confusing because, while you are technically an employee of the company that has put you on furlough, you aren’t working or receiving a salary. It’s important to know how this status can affect your job search moving forward. In short, a furlough is a temporary unpaid leave of absence.

Being laid off, on the other hand, means you are no longer employed by the company and there is no relationship remaining between you and the employer. Furlough allows employers to technically keep their employees while cutting back on payroll costs. Employees that have been furloughed usually keep their health benefits, although they may not necessarily keep their retirement benefits during this time. Furloughed employees can also apply for unemployment benefits, but the amount of unemployment benefits furloughed workers are eligible for varies by state. Many states have certain requirements and conditions about who can collect unemployment benefits.

While furloughing employees is intended to be a short-term, temporary solution, legally there is no set time frame for a furlough. It is up to the organization to set their own schedule for who will return to working status, when they will return, and in what order. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that a furloughed employee will return to a normal working status.

Stay Productive
There’s a lot of change happening right now, and with all of the uncertainty that comes with that change, furloughed employees may feel overwhelmed or lost when deciding what the next move should be. Furloughed employees should use this time to update their resume, refresh their LinkedIn profile, and examine their employment options. As a furloughed worker, you have the right to find additional work. Don’t consider this an unpaid vacation! Make the most of this time to best position yourself for the future.

Networking During Shelter-in-Place
While each state has its own mandates, most have limited the number of people who can gather in one place. This can make networking a challenge. However, Zoom meetings have filled a void (for better or for worse) in keeping people connected during back to back calls, which can even bleed into evening “social” hours. There are plenty of industry happy hours, networking meetings, seminars, webinars, and more being hosted on Zoom where you can get involved. No one knows what the future economic environment will look like, but sitting in isolation and avoiding interaction with others in your field is not the best next step for your career. Keep your eyes open for virtual networking opportunities and get yourself out there however you can.

Support Others
Perhaps you were furloughed and are now able to return to work, while and others – coworkers, family, friends – have not been as lucky. Their furloughs have turned into layoffs, and now you’re struggling with guilt and a desire to help. Now, more than ever, we are looking for ways to support each other.

  • Connect friends or coworkers to a worthwhile connection or invite them to a virtual happy hour.
  • Write a LinkedIn recommendation for them.
  • Offer to review their resume with a fresh set of eyes.

There are a lot of unknowns in the world right now, and being unsure about your job is a major added stressor. If you’ve been furloughed and aren’t sure how to move forward, keep this in mind: Don’t assume anything. Don’t try to predict the future or listen to gut feelings about whether your job is safe. As we’ve seen, big changes can happen when we least expect it, and you may need to adapt quickly. Prepare today for tomorrow’s success and you’ll be sure to land on your feet.

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