Layoffs and furloughs refer to two separate categories of employee leave. When a worker is temporarily laid off, however, then its definition shifts to one that resembles furlough. In general, furlough refers to a situation wherein an employee must involuntarily take a leave of absence from work due to either economic conditions or the special needs of a company.

For example, furlough may be mandatory if you are hired as a seasoned worker for the holidays and the holiday season has ended. More recently, many workers have been furloughed due to the effects of COVID-19 and the impact it has had on businesses and the economy.

Furlough periods can be long or short, depending on the reason that one was furloughed. For instance, if you were furloughed from work because of the pandemic, then this would be considered a long-term furlough period. Workers also typically do not receive pay when they are furloughed. Hence, why the government has permitted workers who have been temporarily laid off or furloughed from work to collect unemployment benefits at this time. 

Additionally, there are some instances where a worker may be allowed to put in a request for voluntary furlough if their employer offers such a program. For the purposes of this article, the discussion will mainly focus on standard furlough (meaning involuntary) and the rights and protections workers have during a furlough period.

On the other hand, employees who have either been permanently laid off or who are part of a group of employees whose jobs were eliminated due to reductions in force (RIFs) typically will not get their job and thus will be eligible to collect unemployment benefits.

Finally, if you have recently been laid off, furloughed, or subjected to RIFs, you should contact a local employment law attorney immediately to find out what you can do about your situation and whether you may qualify for unemployment benefits.  

Do Employees Have Any Protections From Being Laid Off or Furloughed During COVID-19?

Under normal circumstances, an employer who foresees massive layoffs or temporary furlough periods to save money or because business is slow will typically have to provide written notice to the employees that they intend to layoff or furlough. Layoffs or furlough periods caused by the effects of COVID-19, however, have posed some difficulties for both employees and employers alike.

For one, many of the requirements for the federal and state-related WARN laws were suspended given the abrupt, massive, and unforeseeable effects of COVID-19. Instead, many workers had to turn to the government and file for unemployment benefits. 

This is because claims that could usually be brought under WARN laws against employers and any subsequent means of recovery are either not in effect in certain states or do not currently apply to pandemic conditions.

Aside from filing for unemployment compensation, workers should also confirm that there are no protections provided in an employment contract or a collective bargaining agreement. In many instances, these documents will usually contain provisions regarding employee layoffs or furlough periods. Thus, there may be some protections listed or rights that a worker can exercise in accordance with such provisions. 

Lastly, employees may also be legally protected if they can prove that they were furloughed or laid off for discriminatory reasons and not because of COVID-19. Employees who believe they have a case should speak to a local employment lawyer immediately for further legal advice. 

Are Union Employees Protected from COVID-19 Layoffs or Furloughs? 

As stated above, employees who are union members may be able to seek relief from COVID-19 layoffs or furloughs by reviewing the terms of their collective bargaining agreement. In cases where the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement offers no resolution, laid off or furloughed workers may be able to negotiate with their employer for certain benefits. 

Union workers who have been laid off or furloughed because of COVID-19 should contact their union labor representatives for further advice on the matter. The representative may be able to bargain with the employer or assert some exception (e.g., compelling economic exigency) to obtain some form of relief for those workers.

What if My Hours Were Cut Due to the Pandemic? 

Over the past year, the pandemic has forced countless businesses to temporarily cease operations or to permanently close. As a result, this has caused many people across the country to lose their jobs and/or to suffer a reduction in the number of hours they were permitted to work each week. This in turn has led to an increase in unemployment levels and claims for unemployment benefits.

In general, workers who have had their hours cut due to the effects of the pandemic may be eligible to apply for and receive unemployment benefits. The period for which a worker or employee may be entitled to collect unemployment benefits for as well as the type and amount of benefits they can receive will depend on their individual circumstances and state labor laws.

It should be noted, however, that workers who are currently still being paid some form of wages by an employer may only be allowed to collect partial unemployment benefits. Thus, it is important that workers who have had their hours cut because of the pandemic consult with a local employment law attorney before they file a claim for unemployment benefits. An attorney can advise a worker on the various laws and requirements for benefits in their state.

Additionally, an attorney will be able to help speed up the process by making sure that the worker is eligible to receive unemployment compensation and that they have filed all of the proper paperwork, so that the decision is not delayed. In cases where a worker’s benefits application is rejected, an attorney can assist them in resolving errors with their application or in presenting a case as to why the worker should receive compensation.

What are My Rights When I Leave a Job Due to COVID-19 Issues? 

As with some of the other issues discussed throughout the article, the rights that a worker may have if they leave a job due to COVID-19 issues will depend on the laws of their state, the facts of their particular case, and the terms of their employment agreement. 

For instance, if a worker volunteered to leave their job to benefit their company, then they may be able to collect unemployment benefits in some states or they may be able to negotiate a severance package with their employer. On the other hand, if a person voluntarily quit their job for personal reasons (e.g., they did not want to contract COVID-19), then they may not be eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.

Do I Need to Hire an Employment Law Attorney for Help with Furlough Laws and COVID-19?

As previously discussed, the laws governing furlough actions that concern COVID-19 issues can vary considerably based on the state as well as on how those laws are applied to the facts of each individual case. Therefore, it is generally encouraged that you seek advice from a local employment law attorney if you are experiencing problems with furlough laws and their effect on COVID-19 related issues. 

An employment law attorney who specializes in handling furlough cases will be able to provide guidance on the laws that are relevant to your specific case and can discuss some next steps you can take to resolve the situation. Your attorney can also assist you in filing a lawsuit against the appropriate parties or in filing an appeal against the initial decisions on your claim.   

You may also want to consider hiring an employment law attorney in your area if you believe you have been wrongfully denied benefits during the furlough period. Your attorney will be able to explain why you may have been denied benefits and what you can do about it. Remember, time is of the essence in such situations since you will only have a limited window to file a claim for benefits and/or appeal a decision regarding a denial of benefits.

In addition, your attorney can assist you in amending an employee benefits application, providing legal representation at your hearing, and/or in further resolving any matters associated with your claim.

Finally, your attorney can inform you of any rights and legal protections you may have under the law as a furloughed worker and can determine whether there are grounds to initiate a class action lawsuit against your employer based on conflicting state furlough laws and COVID-19 measures.