What you need to know if you are laid off or furloughed

Christina Omlor

With official advice on extended lockdowns and social distancing measures being enforced right now1, more and more people are being urged to work from home. For some though, working from home is not an option as their job role or employer does not allow for this. This means that workers in the industries hit the hardest, such as travel, hospitality or event, and even those who are self-employed, are facing lay offs or being furloughed. According to the Department of Labor,  the number of people claiming jobless benefits went up by 3 million from 281,000 the previous week, which is the highest figure ever reported.2

So, if you’ve lost your job or been furloughed in the past 2 weeks, it is time to look forward and claiming control over your situation again. Here’s everything you need to know about your rights and what to do next in both situations.

What is the difference between a layoff and a furlough?

Getting laid off is hard. But it’s important to remember that it has nothing to do with your performance – it’s a result of your employer struggling with the current economic situation and is not the same as being fired.

Lay off

If your employer decides to lay you off, this will mean that your contract will be terminated on a certain date after which you are not expected to go back to work and will stop receiving workplace benefits (unless otherwise specified). 


A furlough is different from a lay-off, as it’s an unpaid period of leave after which you’re expected to return to your regular job. A furlough can go on for an unspecified period of time. But, crucially, you can expect to keep benefits (such as health insurance) during a furlough. Remember though, you may are obliged to return received unemployment benefits according to your state laws. 

What can I do if I have been laid off?

1. Apply for unemployment immediately

Don’t waste your time on suffering too much over your situation. Take actions to ease the pressure and upcoming anxiety of financial instability by applying for unemployment benefits.

The coronavirus relief package has expanded unemployment insurance for all of those people who find themselves without a job during the shutdown. This $2 trillion bill which was enacted on Friday creates two main categories of benefits for individuals.

  1. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which covers people who are unable to work because of the coronavirus outbreak. This includes independent contractors, gig workers, sick people and those caring for a loved one during the outbreak.

  2. An extra $600 per week over the next four months for those who are out of work and getting jobless benefits in their state.

This means that you’ve secured your unemployment insurance in your state, you will be eligible for an extra $600 per week in emergency federal compensation through July 31, 2020 – in addition to your state benefits.

2. Ask about healthcare continuation

Many employers will allow for healthcare continuation for a month or even longer after your work officially ends, especially for employees with families. Often if you’re laid off, employers provide a severance and include 1-3 months (minimum) of severance payment and a lump sum to pay for COBRA coverage. So, it’s worth checking what you’re entitled to in terms of health insurance.

3. Confirm that your employer won’t contest unemployment

Confirm in writing that your employer believes that your unemployment application is eligible, and won’t contest it. 

4. Look into accessing your Roth IRA

If you’ve already been laid off and you don’t have any money but have a Roth IRA, you can take out your contributions you’ve made in prior years tax free. And, if you have 401k, you might be able to take a loan.

5. Take the opportunity to build new skills

If you’re going to be out of work and stuck at home, think about ways to diversify your skills to protect yourself in the long term. 

6. Apply for a new job

While you may be crushed by the news or situation, don’t pause in shock. There are still plenty of open job positions in essential industries

Amazon announced Monday it was looking to hire 100,000 new workers to keep up with demand for deliveries. Many other industries are hiring employees to keep essential services going – check out our list of essential jobs for inspiration

Find out more on coronavirus and work:

What are my rights if I’m furloughed?

Since a furlough is an unpaid period of leave after which you’re expected to return to your regular job, it differs from the situation of being laid off. 

Will I be paid?

You will not be paid during a furlough. And because you will not be paid, you are not allowed to work. You might even be barred from your work email and other work related accounts because businesses are legally obligated to pay employees who break the “no work” rule.

Can I claim unemployment benefits when furloughed?

Yes! Furloughed employees are still eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Every state has its own rules for these benefits, so make sure you find out what the situation is like where you live. 

Can I look for a new job?

You have every right to find a new job. You could look for temporary employment during your furlough period, just check with your employer first to make sure they don’t have a policy against this. But, it doesn’t hurt to look, so why not see what’s out there – either temporarily or permanently and then make a decision? 

We’re living in unprecedented times, so if you’ve been laid off or furloughed recently try to be kind to yourself.


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1. Washington Post
Department of Labor



Disclaimer :

Check with your state’s unemployment insurance program regarding the specific rules in your state. Also: For up to date information about your rights check out the expanded unemployment insurance guidelines announced by the U.S. Department of Labor in the wake of COVID-19.