Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
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Question: In light of COVID-19, I'm wondering, what is the difference between a layoff and a furlough?
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: First, thank you for asking this question. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers have heard the terms “layoff” and “furlough,” and, frankly, it can be confusing.
To break it down, a layoff is a full separation from a company. And while your employer could decide to bring you back at some point, typically, layoffs are permanent.
Furloughs, on the other hand, are temporary. Most of the time, employers intend to recall employees back to work. Bottom line: You still have a job but you’re not working.
Employers may furlough workers when business is slow or if the organization has taken a financial hit – which, of course, has happened to many companies in 2020. When an employee is furloughed, it can be for a specific number of unpaid days, such as once a week, or it can be for several weeks or months – it’s truly up to the employer.
The difference between these two terms can be tricky to understand because the term “layoff” is often used incorrectly to describe instances when an employer terminates an individual with no intent to rehire. When a position is eliminated in this way, it's actually called a reduction in force.
You didn’t ask one more point: If you are furloughed, you can expect to continue most of your benefits, but you should always review your company’s policies and benefit plans. Following a layoff, employees typically lose health care and other benefits but could gain coverage and care through COBRA.
I hope this helps!
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Question: I’ve tried all my resources to see how I can go back to work, but am unable due to lack of child care. I am unable to start work until this is resolved. Can I be let go or still collect unemployment because I was furloughed since the start? – Anonymous
Taylor I’m sorry to hear about your furlough. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended millions of Americans, and I truly understand your struggle – I’m a single dad. In fact, only 7% of employers are considering adding on-site on-site child care services upon returning to work.
You don’t mention why you were furloughed. But you could be in luck. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employees are able to take up to 12 weeks if they lack child care due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, if you were furloughed due to a lack of work caused by an economic downturn, there are no job protections nor paid leave. However, you could still be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.
Additionally, many states have enacted temporary eligibility rules for unemployment allowing residents to receive benefits due to both furlough and inability to work due to lack of child care for COVID-19 related reasons. To learn more, check the website of your state’s unemployment office.
You might also consider discussing your options with HR. These are difficult times, and your employer may have resources and tools to help you navigate it. And, keep in mind, no employer wants to lose a strong employee. So, go in and help your employer help you.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What's the difference between a furlough and layoff? Ask HR