What is a Furlough? (+ Other Furlough FAQs in 2020)

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ZipJob Team

6 min read

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Across the United States, governments at every level have been aggressively working to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. In many states, that effort has led to mandated business shutdowns that have dramatically impacted the nation’s economy. In fact, more than 10 million Americans have found themselves laid off or outright terminated in recent weeks. Many more are likely to experience the same fate in the weeks and months to come. Still others are likely to be furloughed.

If you have already been furloughed or expect to be in the coming weeks, this furlough FAQ can help to answer your most pressing questions.

What does it mean to be furloughed? 

Furloughs are defined as time off without pay. Unlike a layoff or termination, a furlough is the equivalent of temporary but mandatory leave of absence. Employees who are furloughed typically go unpaid during that period, though they technically retain their jobs and benefits.

In most cases, this is a temporary status with an end date, and a way for companies to keep their workforces intact during times of economic stress.

Expert Tip

read our experts' advice on the US job market and COVID-19, including the industries still hiring and the jobs hit the hardest.

Why are companies resorting to furloughs during COVID-19?

When the economy turns sour, companies often lay off employees to make themselves leaner and more capable of surviving any economic downturn. However, when those companies expect that downturn to be short-lived, furloughs are a way to avoid re-staffing when the crisis has passed. The current economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of this mindset.

Consider the following:

  • The economy was fundamentally sound prior to the outbreak. Interest rates were low, economic growth was steady, and unemployment was at 50-year lows.

  • The current business crisis was not caused by normal economic factors. Instead, it was the result of governments across the nation consciously shutting down their economies as they enforced social distancing policies.

  • Because the economy was strong prior to the intentional shutdown, many business owners have good reason to believe that their recovery will be swift once the virus is contained and normal business resumes.

In short, companies like Gap, General Electric, Marriott, Disney, and Macy’s have chosen to use furloughs rather than firings to manage the crisis. These, and other companies like them, are betting that retaining those employees will enable them to more quickly recover when the economy is opened up once again.

What are the different types of furloughs?

Furloughs can take different forms. They include:

  • Total: A total unpaid leave of absence, with no work hours. Employers cannot require employees to check emails, phone messages, or perform any business-related tasks while furloughs.

  • Partial: Adjustments to scheduling where employees work reduced hours, skipping days or weeks at a time. For example, the Gannett publishing company announced plans to furlough many of its employees for five days each month until the end of June.

What happens to my benefits if I am furloughed?

In most instances, your employee benefits remain intact during any unpaid furlough. That’s especially true for healthcare benefits. However, you should check with your employer to see exactly which, if any, benefits you can expect to receive while you’re on furlough.

Can I file for unemployment if I'm furloughed?

Yes. Congress and the President have addressed that concern. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act contains provisions that extend unemployment to all employees impacted by the coronavirus.

That includes not only terminated workers, but part-time employees, furloughed workers, independent contractors, freelancers, and even the self-employed. The CARES Act thus overrides any state-imposed restrictions on furloughed workers receiving unemployment.

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Will my job still be there for me after the furlough? 

That depends. In most instances, employers who furlough workers fully expect to bring them back on payroll when their company’s situation improves.

However, there is always the chance that the company may not recover, especially if an economic slowdown worsens unexpectedly. As an employee, you should maintain contact with your employer during any furlough, to ensure that you have regular updates and realistic expectations.

Can I look for another job while furloughed?

Yes. You have the right to seek employment while furloughed. You may want to consider temporary work until your regular job resumes, or seek a new job altogether. However, if you do land another job, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Expert Tip

read our expert's advice on job searching during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Can I get the extra $600 in unemployment congress has approved?

Yes. In an effort to help unemployed Americans through this crisis, the CARES Act includes a provision that adds an extra $600 to each week’s unemployment check. That provision is currently in effect for unemployment payments until July 31, 2020.

How long can a furlough last?

Furloughs are designed to be temporary solutions. After all, an indefinite furlough would be unsustainable for most employees. As a result, most furloughs last from a few weeks to several months.

In addition, other factors may impose limits as well. For example, any union agreement may have limitations on the use of furloughs. Local laws may also impact how companies use furloughs.

Do I need to address my furlough on a resume?

The short answer is no, especially if your company eventually brings you back on payroll. On the other hand, if your furlough turns into a layoff, then you may want to address that in your application as you’re looking for a new job. The COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on our economy won’t soon be forgotten, so employers will likely understand. Just be honest and brief to explain why you stopped working for that employer.

For example:

“Furloughed from my position during the COVID-19 outbreak and my state’s mandated shutdown of non-essential businesses. Due to the company’s financial losses, they were unable to bring me back on payroll.”

Expert Tip

check out our guide on How to Deal with Employment Gaps on Resume for expert advice on dealing with any type of resume gap.


It's hard to understand the new challenges that come with this time of uncertainly and job instability. We hope this article will help you answer your questions and get started on the next steps after being furloughed. If you have additional questions, please comment below for feedback from our career experts and community.

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Written by

ZipJob Team

The ZipJob team is made up of professional writers and career experts located across the USA and Canada with backgrounds in HR, recruiting, career coaching, job placement, and professional writing.

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