Navigating the World of Furloughs: A Comprehensive Guide to Temporary Employment Measures


Delve deep into the world of furloughs, exploring what they entail, how they work, and the crucial distinctions from layoffs. This comprehensive guide provides valuable insights for both employers and employees, shedding light on furlough requirements, real-life examples, and frequently asked questions.

Understanding furloughs

In the realm of employment, a furlough is a temporary layoff, involuntary leave, or a modification of normal working hours without pay for a specified duration. Furloughs serve as strategic workforce management tools utilized by businesses for various reasons. Whether it’s a need for cost-cutting during challenging economic times, plant shutdowns, or organizational overhauls that create uncertainty about employee retention, furloughs play a pivotal role.

Key components of a furlough

Furloughs typically involve the following key aspects:

  • Temporary layoff: Employees are temporarily separated from their regular work duties.
  • Involuntary leave: Workers are required to take leave, often without pay, for a specific period.
  • Modified working hours: In some cases, employees might experience reduced working hours during a furlough.
  • Maintained benefits: Despite not receiving their regular pay, furloughed employees often retain their job benefits, such as healthcare and retirement plans.

Furloughs vs. layoffs

It’s crucial to distinguish between furloughs and layoffs, as they serve different purposes and have distinct implications:


  • Are temporary halts to work.
  • Employees retain their jobs and benefits.
  • Employees do not receive pay during the furlough.
  • Employers can recall trained workers when conditions improve, avoiding the need to hire and train new staff.


  • Result in the permanent discharge of employees.
  • Employees have no expectation of returning to their jobs.
  • Employees may receive severance packages.
  • Employers may incur expenses in recruiting and training new employees.

Furlough duration

The duration of a furlough can vary widely, depending on several factors:

  • Economic conditions: Furloughs are often prompted by economic challenges, but they are designed to be temporary. The duration depends on how long the economic difficulties persist.
  • Business disruptions: Furloughs may also result from temporary disruptions, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which led many businesses to furlough employees until conditions improved.

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Cost savings: Furloughs allow businesses to reduce labor costs temporarily.
  • Retained workforce: Employees keep their jobs, preserving the talent pool.
  • Flexibility: Employers can recall trained workers when needed, avoiding recruitment and training costs.
  • Financial strain: Furloughed employees experience a temporary loss of income.
  • Uncertainty: Furlough durations may vary, creating uncertainty for employees.
  • Legal considerations: Employers must navigate complex legal requirements.

Examples of furloughs

To illustrate the practical applications of furloughs, consider the following scenarios:

  • Economic downturns: During economic downturns, companies may implement mandatory unpaid days off. For instance, a company might require employees to take several unpaid days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, reducing their accrued leave or paid time off. This qualifies as a furlough, as employees keep their jobs but experience a temporary reduction in pay.
  • Seasonal furloughs: Certain industries, like landscaping and lawn care, may furlough employees during the off-season. Similarly, factories might furlough workers during temporary shortages of materials and recall them when supplies are replenished.
  • Government shutdowns: Government shutdowns can lead to furloughs when funding is insufficient. Government agencies must cease operations until funding is approved. The 2018 U.S. government shutdown, lasting 35 days, furloughed numerous federal employees.

Furlough requirements and considerations

Furloughs entail specific requirements and considerations for both employers and employees:

Nonexempt vs. exempt employees

  • Nonexempt employees (hourly): Employers can legally impose furloughs on hourly employees. However, they must adjust workloads to match the reduced hours, ensuring that nonexempt employees are paid for every hour worked.
  • Exempt employees (salaried): Exempt employees, typically paid predetermined salaries, generally cannot work during furloughs. If they perform any work during this period, they must receive their full weekly salary, with specific exceptions. Exempt employees also maintain their job benefits, including healthcare.

Variations by state

Furlough duration requirements can vary by state. Some states may consider extended or indefinite furloughs as terminations, triggering legal requirements for final paychecks and compensation for accrued leave.


Furloughs are instrumental in managing employment challenges, offering flexibility for employers and some job security for employees during uncertain times. Understanding the nuances of furloughs and their legal implications is vital for both sides of the employment equation.

Frequently asked questions

Do furloughed employees get paid?

It depends on the type of employee. Nonexempt employees, paid on an hourly wage, may experience reduced working hours during a furlough but must still be paid for the hours worked. Exempt employees, on predetermined salaries, are generally not paid during furloughs unless they perform work during that time.

For how long can a company furlough an employee?

Furlough duration is not universally defined and varies by state. Some states may categorize extended or indefinite furloughs as terminations, entitling employees to final paychecks and accrued leave compensation.

Key takeaways

  • Furloughs are temporary layoffs or modifications of working hours without pay.
  • Employees retain their jobs and benefits during furloughs.
  • Employers can recall trained workers after furloughs, avoiding the need for new hires.
  • Furlough duration varies, depending on specific circumstances and regulations.
View article sources
  1. Furlough Frequently Asked Questions – Florida State University
  2. Furlough Compared to Reduction in Force – University of North Carolina
  3. Furloughs – University of Wisconsin System
  4. § 570.38 Conditions of Furlough. – Cornell Law School
  5. Understanding Government Shutdowns: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions – SuperMoney
  6. Furloughed Federal Workers Turn to Shutdown Loans to Pay for Essentials – SuperMoney