Furlough vs. Lay Off: What’s the Difference?

There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, particularly surrounding our jobs. So let's clear this up right away.

One day you’re at work as a flight attendant, hotel concierge, or restaurant server, and the next COVID-19 has swept across the nation. What was once a weekly schedule filled with work and social commitments with friends has turned into a slew of days filing for unemployment and picking up the pieces to build a new life. Across the United States, about half a million Americans who worked at department stores were furloughed from their jobs during the first week of April, and millions since then have been laid off, furloughed, and filed for unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation and world. Here’s what the coronavirus is costing the world (so far).

If you’re still working at your job, you’ve heard the fate of others being furloughed and laid off in the news, but what does that really mean?

What do furlough and lay off mean?

During this time period, companies are making tough decisions to decrease pay cuts, furlough, and lay off employees. Generally, if an employee is laid off, that means the employee no longer works for the employer and the contract has been terminated. If an employee is furloughed, that means the employee is still employed by the employer, but not paid. For example, if an employee has been furloughed, they may still have access to health insurance.

What’s the difference between furlough and lay off?

It’s important to note that an employee who has been furloughed is not allowed to work at all on behalf of the employer during that time. Furloughed employees still have employment rights and can expect to return to work at some point. Employees who have been laid off do not have that option. It’s hard enough to live life during a pandemic, let alone losing your job. Here’s what experts recommend to do after being laid off.

Can you file for unemployment if you’ve been furloughed?

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If you have been furloughed or laid off due to COVID-19, then you should be able to file for unemployment and have access to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

What do you do after you’ve been furloughed and laid off?

This is a rough time period for everyone, especially for people who have been furloughed or laid off. If you’ve been furloughed or laid off, make sure to file for unemployment and contact your bank. As you continue to job search, you can find returnship programs that hire those who are re-entering the workforce. Know that this is a huge change and you are not alone.

For more on this developing situation, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

Madeline Wahl
Madeline Wahl is a former associate editor and writer at RD.com whose work has appeared on HuffPost, Red Magazine, McSweeney's, Pink Pangea, The Mighty, Golf Channel and Yahoo Lifestyle, among others. More of her writing can be found on her website, madelinehwahl.com.