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    What Options Do Furloughed Workers Have?

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    The rapid spread of COVID-19 across the United States caused a serious disruption in the daily lives of most American workers. Although many people are able to work from home, or are still working under “essential employee” status, others have been laid off or furloughed. 

    The Healthcare Sector

    In the healthcare industry, doctors and nurses, radiologists and anesthesiologists, receptionists, and other healthcare staff are facing furloughs in the millions. As the rise of COVID-19 leads to the restriction of all unnecessary or elective procedures, private doctors’ offices, and specialty clinics such as endoscopy centers, plastic surgery facilities, and out-patient/day surgery centers are out of work across the country. 

    In fact, reports this past April cited that nearly 1.9 million Americans were employed at family medicine offices which closed because of the virus. While doctors may still be able to “see” patients through teledoc-type systems, many of the nurses, medical assistants, receptionists, and janitorial staff have either been laid off, are experiencing severely reduced hours, or have been furloughed.

    A furlough means workers are suspended without pay but, typically, they do still receive health benefits and are eligible for re-hire once the company reopens. In fact, government workers still retain employment rights that prevent them from being fired during a furlough without the typical process. As helpful as these benefits are, furloughed employees still need a source of income while waiting for the virus to run its course. There is an abundance of uncertainty surrounding how quickly businesses will re-open and when they will get back to full capacity.

    Other Employment

    While some businesses are shuttered, others may be hiring. In most cases, if a furloughed worker is interested in doing so, they are free to seek other employment. Similar to seeking employment while working, the employer cannot retaliate against an employee for finding another job while they are on furlough. This can be full-time, part-time, permanent, seasonal, or temporary work. 

    If a furloughed employee does not want to find another job permanently, they usually have the option of seeking other employment during the length of the furlough. However, employers are able to create policies against furloughed workers having simultaneous employment during the furlough in situations where it may jeopardize the safety and security of the company. This can include trade secrets, protected company information, customer/client sources, and other company property. Employees should check with their individual employers to discuss their options of seeking short term employment until the company is able to bring them back on board. 

    Unfortunately, many of the frontline healthcare workers who were battling the virus every day have been furloughed and quarantined due to exposure to, or worse, contraction of the virus. Hundreds of healthcare workers, especially those in states significantly impacted by the virus, have been infected, and countless more have gotten sick in states which have not kept track of their case count. If a healthcare worker is unable to work, unable to seek other employment, and unable to seek temporary employment, what can they do? 

    Unemployment Benefits

    Thankfully, most furloughed employees are able to receive unemployment benefits. Employees must be careful about unemployment because if upon returning to work, they get back-pay from their employer, the employee will have to repay any benefits they received. However, with new, federal, temporary rules set in place to combat the financial consequences of the virus, many furloughed workers can find help. In addition to receiving $600 each week on top of the state’s maximum amount until July 31st, applicants will also be able to receive benefits for two or three times longer than normal. Also, contractors and self-employed individuals are now eligible for benefits. The waiting period to apply for benefits, the regular check-ins, and the ongoing job search requirements have been waived. With a record 6.6 million Americans filing for unemployment in April and rates still disproportionately high now, this relief couldn’t come soon enough.  

    Answering the Call

    With COVID-19 still going strong, these furloughed healthcare workers have answered the call to help. In New York, a cry for help yielded over 80,000 healthcare volunteers to relieve those nurses and medical staff run ragged in New York hospitals. With the number of COVID cases rising nationwide, the more doctors there are, the more people treated and, hopefully, the more who recover. 

    Many states are loosening licensing requirements in order to meet demand. A simple Google search will lead you to page after page of hospitals asking for volunteers to help with the crisis. Doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers are coming out of retirement to help. Nurses are relocating to other states to provide assistance. Doctors, unable to practice as they regularly would due to the shutdowns, are going back to the basics to help treat the virus.

    For those with experience outside of the healthcare industry, there are still many companies that are hiring during the pandemic. All essential companies, including grocery stores, gas stations, many retail stores, and restaurants may have reduced hours in some locations but are “business as usual” otherwise. Companies like 7-Eleven, ACE Hardware, CVS Pharmacy, Dominos, and UPS, to name a few, are experienced a rise in demand due to the virus and are hiring at various locations.

    Companies with remote positions are also hiring. This includes positions in the technology field, social media forums, and tech support positions for internet and cable companies. The virtual meeting platform Zoom is experiencing much higher demand since the shutdowns began and is looking for employees, as are internet/television companies like Spectrum. 

    Every American has been affected by the spread of COVID-19, in one aspect or another. Whether struggling with the insanity of working a healthcare or retail job, the nuances of working from home, or the financial consequences of a layoff or furlough, most of us are eagerly awaiting the day society returns to normalcy. For those who have been furloughed, the situation is all the more difficult to navigate. Whether you choose to seek new or temporary employment with one of the companies that are still hiring or you decide to take advantage of the current assistance available through unemployment, there is help available. 

    Bio: Kay Van Wey is a Board Certified Personal Injury Trial Lawyer with over 30 years of experience. She’s been named Texas Super Lawyer by her peers for 15 consecutive years and was voted a D Magazine Best Personal Injury Lawyer in 2016 and 2018.

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