I never imagined I’d be someone who needed to ask the government for help. I started working at eighteen and have brought home a paycheck every week for thirty-eight years. I’ve never applied for unemployment. My wife and kids know I used to ridicule people “on the dole.” Now I am one.
I got furloughed for the foreseeable future and maybe the rest of my life. I’m fifty-six and if it was hard before this coronavirus for a man in his fifties to get a good job, what chance do I have now?
I’m a housecleaner. I work for myself, like it that way and am good at it. But in the last few weeks, client after client has cancelled on me. Two didn’t even bother to tell me until I showed up at their houses. My income has plummeted from eight hundred dollars a week to zero.
One client turned me away at her door but suggested I shop for her family at Costco and Fred Meyer. She said she’d give me a tip, along with whatever the groceries cost. A tip? – For going to stores she’s afraid to go to and not offering to pay me for my time?
My new occupation is connecting with the unemployment office. I’ve been furloughed but the manager who gave me the news me couldn’t answer my question when I asked “how is this different from a layoff?” Meanwhile, my former company is treating me like a criminal. They’ve taken away my company cell phone, but I used that cell as a personal phone, so now what do they expect me to do? He said it was so I wouldn’t use it to “work.”
Furloughs differ from layoffs in that a furlough is a temporary, unpaid leave and a layoff is a full separation from your former employer. Furloughs can be better for employees. Although laid off employee may receive severance pay, it’s a final paycheck and their employer-provided health insurance typically ends shortly afterwards. Those furloughed often later get their jobs back at the same salary as before and their health insurance generally continues, though they may need to make their own contributions. Both furloughed and laid off employees have unemployment eligibility.
Furloughs help employers weather a financial storm by reducing their labor cost without adding the costs involved in severance packages. They allow the employer to save jobs and more quickly become competitive again by rehiring furloughed employees once the economy improves.
On a furlough, you’re an employee, however one without work and thus without pay unless your employer’s policies result in you receiving pay for accrued paid time off. Your employer may have taken your cell because they implemented a zero-tolerance No Work Rule which prohibits furloughed employees from doing any work.
If a salaried employee works while on furlough, the employer must pay them for a day; if an hourly employee works, the employer must pay them for time worked. As a result, many employers revoke a furloughed employees’ access to work accounts and devices, to prevent well-intentioned employees from triggering payments.
All of this of course shakes you to the core and you have the right to know how your employer expects the next several weeks to play out. Your employer may be in free fall and not have many answers. You can still find out if they’ll be providing the same health benefits and if not, you’ll want to sign for health insurance as quickly as possible. You can also ask if you can cash in your accumulated paid time off.
Meanwhile, apply immediately for unemployment to ensure you receive the maximum compensation possible and don’t let shame prevent you from receiving the benefits you need to take care of yourself and your family. The CARES Act rescue package opened the door for self-employed and gig workers to qualify for unemployment benefits. If you were self-employed, your payment depends on how much you earned and you have to prove you worked consecutive quarters before you became unemployed
As a furloughed employee, you have the right to find additional work. You’ll want to first check your employer’s policies concerning any rules related to outside employment or second jobs, as your employer may enforce these policies even during a furlough.
Finally, ground yourself by doing productive work. Can you make and distribute face masks? Can you keep yourself centered by whipping your health and fitness into shape? Or, as I’m telling many of those who call me for assistance, is it time for you to reassess self-employment? If you work for yourself you’ll never be laid off, furloughed or fired. Alternatively, dust off your resume and start looking for a temporary, part-time or even a new job.
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and www.workplacecoachblog.com. Curry is now a Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting at Avitus Group. Send your questions to her at Lcurry@avitusgroup.com or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.