Working during COVID-19

Voluntary temporary layoffs during COVID-19

Updated June 5, 2020.

Voluntary temporary layoff

As another option to manage budgetary challenges due to the COVID-19 emergency, departments may allow employees to volunteer to take a furlough or temporarily reduce their FTE.

Voluntary temporary layoffs are employee-initiated and do not need to comply with the 7 day notice period. The start and end dates are mutually agreed to by the department and the employee, not to exceed the maximum outlined in the temporary layoff policy for the employee’s employment program. Employees return to their position or previous level of effort on a pre-arranged date, unless there is mutual agreement by both the department and the employee to return to work earlier.

This process does not apply to temporary hourly employees; temporary hourly employees may be removed from the work schedule without going through the furlough process.

Employees requesting a voluntary temporary layoff:

  • For reductions in FTE, must remain above 50% FTE.
  • If FLSA exempt, FTE x base wage must not drop an exempt employee’s actual gross wage below $2,964 per month ($684 per week). If it does, the employee must move into a nonexempt job profile and track time and be paid for all hours worked in the week.

Departments must approve voluntary temporary furloughs of employees who at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 who cannot be accommodated and choose to claim unemployment compensation instead of taking paid leave.

Voluntary temporary layoff as part of a Workforce Reduction Plan

When possible, departments who are engaging in COVID-related workforce reduction planning should consider voluntary temporary layoffs as part of their overall strategy. Departments should communicate how voluntary temporary layoffs fit into their workforce management strategy and cost savings plan with their employees in an transparent manner:

  • Define eligibility – Outline which employment programs, job profiles, job profile groups, or types of duties will be eligible to volunteer and communicate how volunteers will be equitably selected and in what time frame. Example: Department X offers voluntary furlough to all customer service representatives and copy editors who respond in writing within 3 days of the announcement. Volunteers will be taken in order of seniority.
  • Describe the target – Communicate how many volunteers are sought and what the impact of volunteers may have on the overall workforce management plan. Example: In Department X, we are facing the cancellation of potentially all of our summer programs, estimated an approximately $XX,XXX loss of revenue. We anticipate that we will need to furlough 8 out of 15 positions for at least 60 days. By taking volunteers, we hope to give employees flexibility in selecting a furlough period that is mutually agreeable.
  • Detail the request window and timeline for evaluation – State the deadline by which employees can request voluntary temporary layoffs and the expected date by which requests will be evaluated. Defining a clear request deadline ensures requests do not come in after alternative measures such as involuntary furlough planning and associated seniority calculations have begun.
  • Be equitable and transparent – The volunteer selection should be transparent and treat individuals with dignity through clear communications, understandable objectives, and strong Q&A support during the process.

Departments must review their voluntary temporary layoff plan with their HR consultant in advance of announcing the program.

Reviewing voluntary furlough requests

As soon as an individual requests a voluntary furlough, for each request received:

  • Review the request to determine ability to approve the request based on operational needs. Follow up with employee if the request is not feasible.
  • For voluntary temporary furloughs approved, collect the following information as part of your plan to be reviewed by your human resources consultant. In cases of large volume, this information may also be useful for mass load into the layoff tool and/or Workday:
    • Employee name
    • Employee EID
    • Employee’s Job Title
    • Total number of days approved for voluntary furlough
    • Total hours of voluntary furlough
    • Date range of furlough, if taken as a period of consecutive days/weeks
    • Manager’s name
  • Communicate approved voluntary furlough requests to the employee and department manager.

Unemployment compensation

Employees who volunteer for a temporary layoff in the form of an FTE reduction or furlough may be eligible for unemployment compensation through the Employment Security Department (ESD) if:

  • The temporary layoff is initiated and announced in writing by the employer; and,
  • The employer makes the final decision about which volunteers are temporarily laid off; and,
  • The employer takes the final action to furlough the employee or temporarily reduce the employee’s FTE. The employer “takes the final action” when it retains the discretion to choose which employees will be laid off or furloughed from those who volunteer.

According to ESD, if these conditions apply and are followed, an individual would be eligible for benefits if they are otherwise eligible. ESD makes the final determination of benefits for all unemployment claims. A voluntarily furloughed or temporarily laid off employee should select “laid off” as the reason for applying for benefits.