WASHINGTON - A skyrocketing number of businesses have furloughed employees because of the coronavirus pandemic — and although furloughs are typically meant to be temporary, many people finding themselves without a paycheck are wondering if they qualify for unemployment insurance.
Although states handle their own unemployment insurance programs, Congress decreed that employees on furlough do qualify for such benefits as long as their loss of work is connected to the pandemic. Congress also added $600 per week onto state benefits until the end of July.
As an end date for the virus lockdown seems unclear, furloughs may feel more like layoffs. Technically, both words denote a cessation of employment, although employers typically use the word "furlough" when the condition is temporary.
There's no across-the-board definition for what benefits or packages an employer owes the employee, although furloughed employees typically keep their health benefits despite losing their paychecks.
The Department of Labor recommends you contact your state's program as soon as possible after you become unemployed. It typically takes two to three weeks to receive your first benefit check after your claim has been filed.
Chains including the Cheesecake Factory, SeaWorld and Men's Warehouse have furloughed employees as they scramble to conserve cash by cutting payroll. Many of these employers must shut their doors because they're not deemed essential businesses.
Meanwhile, U.S. unemployment claims have shattered records. The number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to more than 6.6 million last week, breaking a record high for the second week in a row.