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Home » Articles » Furlough vs. Layoff: What’s the difference?

Furlough vs. Layoff: What’s the difference?

desperate office worker just lost her job and sitting on the street

Companies may implement different measures to manage their workforce in times of economic uncertainty or organizational restructuring. These include furloughs and layoffs. 

While frequently used interchangeably, these two terms actually represent distinct strategies and implications. 

But what is the difference between furlough vs. layoff? 

This article examines the differences in their purposes, legal considerations, and potential impact on employees and organizations. 

Furlough vs. Layoff: Definition of terms

Here’s a brief discussion of furlough vs. layoff:

What is furlough?

A furlough is an employee-granted brief leave of absence. It is usually given during a period of reduced business activity or financial hardships. 

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During a furlough, employees are not required to work and may be asked to take unpaid leave or reduced hours. However, they officially remain on the company’s employment log and are still entitled to certain benefits like health insurance. 

What is furlough
What is furlough

The intention behind a furlough is to minimize costs while retaining skilled employees. This provides a temporary solution until normal business operations can resume. 

Furloughs are often used in response to economic downturns, seasonal fluctuations, or unseen disruptions like natural disasters or pandemics. 

Furloughed employees are expected to return to work when the situation improves or as agreed upon by both parties. 

What is layoff?

A layoff, meanwhile, refers to the permanent termination of employment. Unlike furloughs, layoffs are often initiated in response to more profound and lasting organizational changes. 

One example is replacing a human workforce with AI alternatives. Many of the incidents that cause furloughs can also cause layoffs, such as:

  • Economic downturns
  • Organizational restructuring
  • Technological changes
  • Decline in business activity

These are typically reasons beyond the worker’s actual performance on the job. A layoff is mainly done as a measure to reduce costs and adjust workforce size. 

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If employees experience a layoff, they cease to work for the company and lose access to their regular wages or salary. Employers may offer severance packages to provide financial support during the transition period.

Layoffs are a significant decision for both employers and employees, as they have lasting effects on the workforce and the affected individuals.  

desperate former employee sitting with his belongings stuffed in a box next to him
What is layoff?

Furlough vs. Layoff: Key differences

Furloughs and layoffs have distinct differences in terms of their nature and implications. Here are the key differences between a furlough and a layoff:

Nature and duration

Furloughs are intended to be temporary and are often implemented as a cost-saving measure. Employees are expected to return to normal work when the situation improves. 

Layoffs, on the other hand, are usually permanent, though a temporary layoff is not unheard of. They indicate a more enduring change within the organization. 

Employment status

During a furlough, employees remain on the company’s roster and maintain their employment status. They are, however, temporarily relieved of their duties and typically do not receive regular wages like before. 

In a layoff, employees are permanently severed from the employer-employee relationship. They no longer hold a position within the company and are free to seek employment elsewhere. 

Compensation and benefits

While on furlough, employees may experience a reduction in work hours or unpaid leave, resulting in reduced or no pay. Some benefits may still be accessed, though there may be adjustments.

Laid-off employees generally lose access to both regular wages and most employment-related benefits. Some employers may offer severance packages as a form of financial assistance. 

Intent and reversibility

Furloughs are often used as a cost-saving measure during challenging times with the expectation that employees will return to work when economic conditions improve. They are designed to be reversible.

Layoffs signify a more permanent decision by the employer. While some laid-off employees may be rehired in the future, the separation is typically considered final.

Communication and transparency

Employers often communicate openly about the temporary nature of furloughs, detailing the reasons and expected duration. There is an expectation of ongoing communication regarding any changes to the furlough status.

Layoffs may be communicated with a focus on the reasons behind the decision, but they often involve a more definitive and final break in the employment relationship.

It is important to note that the specific details and implications of furloughs and layoffs can vary depending on local labor laws, company policies, and individual circumstances. 

Consulting with legal and human resources professionals is recommended for accurate and up-to-date information.

male manager is talking or explaining about having to dismiss the employee while being handed out a resignation envelope to the employee
Furlough vs. Layoff: Key differences

When to furlough or lay off employees

Deciding between a furlough vs. layoff is critical and can be influenced by various factors. The choice between these two options largely depends on the nature of the challenges the business is facing and its long-term goals. 

Here are some general guidelines for when to furlough or lay off employees:

Financial situation and business needs

Choose to implement a furlough when you can foresee your temporary hardships. 

Furloughs are preferable if you have the financial capacity to weather that storm. This allows you to manage costs without losing your skilled employees. 

Consider a layoff if you’re undergoing significant restructuring, downsizing, or a long-term decline in business. Also, layoffs may be necessary if financial constraints are severe and likely to persist.

Legal requirements

When government support or subsidy programs are available for retaining employees during challenging times, furloughs can be a viable option. Employers must make sure to adhere to any requirements set. 

If legal or regulatory considerations make permanent separations more practical, layoffs may be the preferred choice. Employers must comply with requirements like notification periods and compliance with labor laws. 

Employee skill sets and flexibility

If employees possess specialized skills or are critical to long-term organizational goals, furloughs allow for talent retention and a quick return to full operational capacity.

In cases where skillsets are not aligned with future needs or the workforce requires significant restructuring, layoffs may be more appropriate.

Employers must assess their unique circumstances, consult legal counsel if necessary, and communicate transparently with employees.

stressd employee feeling down after receiveed termination of employment form in paper brown envelope
When to furlough or lay off employees

Whether furloughing or laying off, it’s not a decision to take lightly. Remember to respect your employees’ rights during this time.

Throughout the entire process, take special care to maintain trust and manage the impact on both the workforce and the organization.

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