Why Your Furloughed Employees Aren’t Coming Back

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Furloughing an employee is never an easy decision. Often, these are financial based decisions to save a company money now and return the employee at a later date. This allows the employee to collect unemployment, pursue other options or wait to be called back. The way that you execute your furlough will determine if your impacted employees return. Don’t jeopardize losing top talent due to faulty furlough processes. The cost of talent acquisition will certainly increase after the pandemic as the best workers will already be gainfully employed.

Below are some reasons your employees will not return post furlough and some costly mistakes to avoid.

1) You attempted to use furlough as a thin veil for lay off. By definition, a furlough is an unpaid break from work while a layoff is a termination from employment. Some employers may try to take this route to avoid public perception or to avoid wrongful termination lawsuits. Employers should beware that employees are savvy and are knowledgeable in all matters pertaining to furlough. There is the expectation that you provide the employee with a return date or time frame.

2) You didn’t treat the employee with dignity or respect in the process. Advance notice wasn’t given or they were not involved (and should have been) in the decision making process. Additionally, they were told they were still employees but the employer’s actions demonstrated otherwise. Things like removing them from phone directories and company web sites communicates otherwise.

3) They found another opportunity which pays more. Few people will return to a job that will pay them less especially after a pandemic.

4) They continued to receive updates electronically of vacation and PTO requests, holiday events, etc. which made them feel even more alienated. Be sure you remove their complete access to systems to avoid ruffling any feathers. It’s awkward to see coworkers taking extensive vacation periods on PTO when you are on furlough.

5) They had catastrophic life events during furlough and no one reached out to them. If you communicate that people are still employees yet fail to act as you would if they were still in your office, failure to reach out particularly during a death really drives a wedge between employee and company.

6) The employees you kept on have no measurable job value. The employer failed to clearly demonstrate why their position was being furloughed or even worse, they transitioned the role to someone less qualified with no experience or expertise in that role. If the impacted employee was cross trained in another function but the reverse doesn’t apply, that could be problematic in a lawsuit. Employers should be mindful of this to avoid discrimination claims.

7) You only furloughed a particular department or protected class without any perceived merit or justification. Not only does this imply discrimination, it sets an uncomfortable precedence for employee relations. The most important considerations are disparate impact and disparate treatment. If the employer decides to be selective of who they determine would be subject to furlough or layoff, then discrimination rules apply. Employers need to be careful that layoffs do not disproportionately impact any protected class of employees.

Should you decide it is necessary to let an employee go under a furlough or layoff, always communicate this in writing so the employee can have it for unemployment benefits. It is important to avoid language in your letter that could be misconstrued as guaranteeing re-employment with the company. Your HR manager can help you with this to avoid any misunderstandings.

If you include a tentative return to work date for furloughed employees, respect the uncertainty of the current times by stating this date is only speculative and their employment continues to be at-will.

Employees are the heart of any organization. Sometimes tough decisions have to be made especially in unchartered times. Navigate the civility in employment by remaining respectful, honest and objective in furlough and lay off matters. Your employees will remain loyal to you when they feel valued.

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