What Does It Mean to Be Furloughed?

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By Nicole Dieker, Lifehacker

Most of us know what it means to be laid off: You’ve been let go from your job, often in a way that is presented as due to no fault of your own, and you are free to both apply for unemployment benefits and pursue new employment possibilities. But what happens when you are furloughed?

Furloughs are becoming much more common as employers react to the economic uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic, and present unfamiliar questions for those affected. If you’re furloughed, can you file an unemployment claim? Can you look for work? Will you still get health insurance benefits? Do you need to put your life on hold until the furlough lifts?

Let’s start by defining what a furlough is. When you are furloughed, you haven’t actually lost your job. Instead, your employer has decided to either temporarily cease operations or to maintain operations with a significantly reduced staff, and your services are not currently needed. When things pick up again and your employer returns to business as usual, your job will be waiting for you (at least in theory). Until then, you’re on an extended unpaid leave—which may or may come with a scheduled end date.

Many people don’t realize that being furloughed may indeed make them eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. Although unemployment insurance programs vary by state, furloughed employees are often entitled to file unemployment claims. In fact, any worker who has experienced an employer-based income reduction may be eligible to receive unemployment payments—so if you’re an hourly worker who got your hours cut, see if you can file a claim and get some of that income back.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the Cares Act, expands employment benefits even further. If you are a freelancer or gig economy worker, a part-time employee or an employee with a relatively short work history, you might be able to receive short-term unemployment checks. Use the Benefits.gov directory to learn more about your state’s unemployment benefits and begin the claims-filing process if you are eligible.

But back to furloughs: In many cases, you’ll continue to receive employer-based health insurance benefits during your furlough—a definite plus in an otherwise anxiety-inducing situation. If your employer decides to cut health insurance benefits, you can either sign up to extend your coverage through COBRA or apply for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (yes, this is possible even though we’re no longer in the annual Open Enrollment period, as loss of coverage is considered a qualifying event).

Being furloughed means you can also search for a new full-time job, assuming you’d rather not wait to get your old one back, or take on gig economy work to help bring in extra cash. But be aware that any new income you bring in might affect your unemployment benefits.

See more at: Lifehacker

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