What does It Mean to be Furloughed?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2019
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Furloughed is a term with multiple meanings and often widely different effects. Generally, being furloughed refers to a leave of absence, and is often used in military organizations to describe temporary leave from duty. It can also refer to leave from a church mission, a temporary pass away from prison, or from a job. To be furloughed from a job is not always a good thing; it may serve as an interim step toward firing a worker if a company is in financial trouble.

In terms of regular jobs, furloughs are mandatory unpaid leave, often due to budgetary troubles. Regional, state, and Federal employees may be placed on furlough if the government is in serious debt. This may also occur if a state or federal budget is not signed or continued before a previous one expires; at that point, the government may actually be forced to shut down all non-essential jobs until a budget is reached.

To be furloughed from a job may mean a worker has a set period of consecutive days or weeks off, or it may mean switching to an intermittent or reduced schedule. In order to remain open, businesses in financial disarray may reduce the numbers of workers on a shift to the bare minimum by reducing hours across the board, or making each worker take at least one mandatory unpaid day off per week. The business may also close for an extra day or days per week.


Being furloughed from prison may sound like an odd concept, since the whole point of prison is to not permit criminals to be in normal society. In some cases, prisoners must be let out to attend trials as a witness or principal party. Nonviolent prisoners may receive furloughs to visit dying family members or attend funerals. In times of war, nations have furloughed prisoners to become soldiers, notably on the Confederate side of the Civil War. Prisoners are required to return back at specific times and dates, or risk being charged with various additional offenses.

In military terms, being furloughed gives a military worker a short leave of absence, lasting a few days up to several months. This time off may be granted for family business, as a temporary relief from duty, or after completing certain training programs. Often, a military member shipping out for a long period of duty away from his or her own country may be granted a short furlough before leaving to be with family.


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Post 15

If your company has furloughed you it is a good idea to start looking for another job. When I was working as a teacher at a private school our workplace had some huge budgetary issues and a lot of the teachers were put on reduced hours to keep the business profitable.

What ended up happening was that those teachers on reduced hours were eventually let go and the school was just holding on to them just in case they were needed to cover an extra class. This wasn't fair to the workers and I still feel that they should have been clearer about the chances of us coming back to work.

Post 14

Furloughs seem to be a fair compromise if your company is struggling to make ends meet. I think that it shows that the company is at least trying to keep you on board even if they can't afford to give you full-time hours.

I do think that in the case of being furloughed the company should let the worker pick a schedule from a few options so that employees can have something that will let them be able to pick up work on the side while trying to hold onto their main position.

When my cousin was furloughed from her job at a factory they had several short shifts she could choose from. She ended up working only two days a week but at least the hourly pay was still decent.

Post 13

We have missionaries that often come to our church who are on furlough. This gives them time to come back to this country for several months at a time.

Not only is this nice to able to see family and friends, but is also very helpful for any medical and financial things they need to take care of.

During this time they also raise support for their return to the mission field in whichever country they are going back to. This time of furlough is often a very busy time, but also a break from the day to day duties of serving in a foreign country.

Post 12

When our mother became very ill, my brother got furloughed from the military. He had been over in Afghanistan, and they let him come home for a month to be with her and to help the family.

They gave him no trouble at all. He told them that his mother had developed sepsis from stomach surgery, and her doctor didn’t know if she would make it. They let him leave the next day.

It took about three weeks, but our mother recovered. My brother was able to help me get her home from the hospital and move some of her things into my house so that I could help her along. I am glad the military offers furlough for such situations.

Post 10

When the government started making cuts to state park maintenance, my cousin became worried. He was a park ranger, and part of his duties included mowing some areas and emptying trash.

He heard that the new cuts involved not mowing areas of the park used less frequently. In a way, they were letting these areas go. He had only worked there for a year, and he knew he would be one of the first eliminated.

Instead of totally cutting him out, they gave him a furlough of two days a week. During those days, he picked up side work to make ends meet.

Post 9

When the newspaper that I work for started making budget cuts, they considered switching me and the other graphic designer to four days a week instead of five, with Friday being our furlough. They said that they considered the fact that we would also benefit from that in the form of saved gas money.

However, in the end, they kept the five day schedule and just trimmed our hours down. Since we publish Monday through Friday, they felt that they needed designers on hand every day to put together last minute ads and take care of any situations that might arise for each day’s paper.

Post 8

@Moldova - I agree with you. The prisoners that should participate in furloughs need to be nonviolent prisoners. I think that furloughs for this population are a good idea and if the furlough is related to some job training or education it might lower the recidivism rate among these criminals.

I have seen furlough programs backfire with violent criminals, and from what I've seen, they almost never work.

Post 7

@Mutsy - I think that companies that resort to furloughs are really weighing the employee morale with cost saving measures. I also wanted to add that furloughs are also given to prisoners because many prisons are overcrowded and some people feel that a short furlough will give a prisoner a chance to see what the outside world is like and maybe that will motivate them to do better when they go back to prison.

The problem with furloughs for prisoners is that many prisoners commit crimes when they are out which really causes one to question the whole furlough program for prisoners.

Post 6

@Crispety -I just want to say that a lot of businesses have also instituted mandatory furloughs in order to cut costs too. I was reading that a well known window manufacturer went to four day work weeks and asked each of its employees to take a one week unpaid leave.

They felt that this way they could take advantage of the knowledge that their experienced employees had while maintaining the morale of the workforce because when people lose their jobs the company’s morale is also affected.

While many companies know that laying off workers is probably the most cost effective option, some companies realize the damage that can happen if too many people are let go.

When the company institutes a no layoff policy and resorts to furloughs,the employees will probably work harder because they are grateful that the company sought this measure. I know I would prefer a furlough then losing my job altogether.

Post 5

@Azura -I also wanted to add that at least when government workers are asked to take some furlough days they still get to keep their jobs.

While it is not a great situation it is far better than the alternative because most people facing the same situation in a private sector job would have been downsized without a question. The furlough is a way to cut costs without cutting jobs.

Post 4

@Backdraft - You're right and I'm glad to hear a sympathetic voice. I work as an auditor for the state of Illinois and we were told three years ago that we would have to begin accepting furloughed time. This basically means that we all received a pay cut and were told that the job we performed was unimportant. Think about that, its a huge insult.

I am a single mom and I have two young sons. We live on a really tight budget and to be suddenly told that less would be coming in put a huge strain on our family. And the worst part is that its not like you can go out and look for a new job

. You still have a job, its just not as good a job as it used to be. Its kind of like being half unemployed which creates all kinds of headaches. I'm glad I'm not one of those people who was laid off but have a little sympathy for the furloughed workers. Its not their fault that we are in this situation.
Post 3

@monika - I think its a little more complicated than this. Public sector workers do receive great benefits but this is often a kind of compensation for low wages. Private sector workers make significantly more money and make more money quicker than an public sector worker does.

And on the issue of furloughs, I guess it is better than being laid off but it also really disruptive to workers. If you expect to make a certain amount of money and work a certain amount of time and that is suddenly changed in ways that you never have any control over, that can have real consequences. I understand the necessity, I just think it is harder on public sector workers and their families than we give them credit for.

Post 2

@Azuza - You're right, that doesn't seem fair. I think it's necessary sometimes though. Our whole country is having economic difficulties and we all have to make sacrifices.

And honestly, I don't feel too badly for those federal employees. They usually get paid a pretty competitive wage and have excellent benefits. The retirement plan is also pretty great. So if they have to take a few unpaid days here and there, let them!

Post 1

I understand why the government does it, but I think forcing people to take furloughs from their jobs is just ridiculous. I know I couldn't afford to just take unpaid time off from my job all of a sudden! I have bills to pay!

Also, I know that most of the time, the people that institute the furlough don't have to take one themselves! It seems like the highest paid workers still get paid while the people who make less are forced to bear the consequences of a budget problem. It just doesn't seem fair to me!

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