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What are Furlough Days?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Furlough days are mandatory leaves of absence ordered by employers who are attempting to cut costs without firing employees. When such a day is ordered, employees take the day off without pay. The practice of ordering employees to take leaves of absence is controversial in some regions, and it can be frustrating for people who rely on regular office hours to access goods and services.

In a classic example, a local or regional government struggling with budget restrictions might mandate that government offices will be closed a set number of days a month to make up for the budget shortfall. For example, offices might be closed on Fridays, or every other Monday, or some variant thereof. These days off may be scheduled into the foreseeable future, or only for a limited time, depending on the nature of the budget shortfall.

One obvious problem with furlough days is that many employees cannot afford the loss of income created by mandatory days off. While losing income altogether as a result of job loss would be worse, employees forced to take unpaid days off may feel resentful, and they may be forced to look for alternate or additional employment to make up the difference. Mandatory time off can also potentially cut into benefits, which will impact employees in the long term.

For people who plan to do business with a company or agency that has instituted furlough days, these periodic closures can be very frustrating. Government offices, for example, usually have familiar and set hours, and it can be upsetting to arrive at an office and realize it is closed. Getting business done during the workweek may also be difficult, as the office may be extremely busy as employees make up for the work which wasn't done on on their days off.

Sometimes, employees are asked to consider taking furloughs voluntarily before such days are mandated. This is designed to encourage those who feel more comfortable with a reduction in income to take time off, allowing others who rely on their whole paychecks to keep working. In other cases, part of the furlough plan may involve closing the office for the day, thereby saving on energy costs and other associated expenses, in which case, employees who cannot afford a loss of income may be allowed to work irregular hours, coming in early or staying late to make up the difference.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon924632 — On Jan 06, 2014

Are you joking? Stop paying teachers during the summer? Really? We are paid a salary based on 40-hour work weeks. We are not paid for the additional 20 hours/week that we spend off the clock. We are not paid for extensive summer prep and planning. We are paid only for the time that we are working inside the building. Districts usually divide that pay over a span of 12 months. Given a salary of less than $38K/year, paying into both state retirement and Social Security, I bring home $950 biweekly. After paying child care expenses, I am left with $125 a week to pay for mortgage, student loans, groceries, home/car insurance, car loan, utilities, and other essentials. That doesn't work so well. Three years ago, I emptied my retirement for regular life expenses. Effective teachers are underpaid.

By anon350036 — On Oct 01, 2013

@Perdido: Teachers don't get paid if they don't work. They get paid for 10 months only. The districts stretch their salaries for 12 months so that it is easier for teachers to manage their money, since some would spend every cent when getting paid and not saving for those summer months. Another reason is for the benefits and taxes collection.

That is a misconception many people have. Even though teachers receive money while school is off, it is money they earned during the school year (10 months). It is money owed to them, not given for free.

By giddion — On Feb 24, 2013

Sometimes, businesses just decide to close for one day a week to save on electricity bills. They don't necessarily always force their employees to give up wages.

I work at a newspaper, and they recently decided to be open four days a week instead of five. However, all the employees were told to come in an hour earlier every day and leave an hour later to make up for the lost day.

I thought this was great, because it meant that I got a day off and saved on gas. Sure, I didn't love getting up earlier and losing an hour in the evening, but I was just glad that I didn't have to take a cut in pay.

By kylee07drg — On Feb 23, 2013

Several people who work in my state's parks were forced to take furlough days this past year. These are people who do everything from picking up the trash to helping visitors find their way around.

Also, the government decided to let certain areas of the park go without maintenance this year. Some of my favorite spots to picnic were closed off to the public, because no one was getting paid to mow them and patrol them.

By Perdido — On Feb 23, 2013
@healthy4life – Yes, even half days can be called furlough days. My daughter's school recently instituted a couple of furlough half days this semester, and this was to save money in several ways.

The teachers would go unpaid for the half a day that they didn't work. Also, all the lights and computers would be turned off, so they would save money on utilities, as well.

It confused me a little, because I thought that teachers were paid on salary rather than hourly. I've heard of teachers getting paid during the summer, and they don't have to show up to work during those months. This may be another thing that we see change in tough financial times, though.

By healthy4life — On Feb 22, 2013

Is it possible to mandate furlough half days? I've noticed that my local post office has begun closing at noon every day when they used to stay open until four. I know the government has done this to save money, but I'm wondering if it qualifies as a furlough, since it is only a half day.

By SauteePan — On Aug 06, 2010

Latte31- I think that state furloughs days are better than not having a job. While no one likes a cut in pay, having a job eliminated completely is far worse.

Many state governments have ballooning budgets and they have to cut back in order to have a balanced budget.

Raising taxes for example, is not an option in a state like California where the taxes are already among the highest in the nation. So the furlough option seems like the best choice.

By latte31 — On Aug 06, 2010

I heard that some like this happened in California. There were CA state furlough days in which state employees were ordered to go home without pay.

I think it happened in Los Angeles. The state of California developed mandatory state furlough days because they were having troubling meeting payroll obligations.

By cupcake15 — On Aug 06, 2010

Here in Florida, there are ideas floating around of instituting mandated teacher furlough days in which the teachers will be ordered to go home a few days a year.

There was even talk of shortening the school week to just four work days a week. It has not happened yet, but with the budget shortfalls that the state continues to have there might just be off days for teachers and students.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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