How to deal with workplace furloughs

LOS ANGELES You may have heard about mandatory furloughs. To help prevent layoffs, 10 percent of American companies surveyed said they are planning on furloughs some time this year. But before you volunteer to give some time back, make sure you know how it will affect your pay, benefits and so much more.

Lynette Seymour loves managing her university bookstore. But when the budget got slashed, the school asked employees campus-wide to consider something called a "voluntary furlough."

"It was an opportunity to sort of step up," said Seymour.

And take off time -- without pay. Seymour agreed to take off five days of her choice. More than 350 employees signed up, a move that will save the school more than $500,000.

Ten percent of businesses questioned in a new survey say they're asking workers for voluntary furloughs. It's happening in all kinds of industries.

"In transportation, in retail, electronics, manufacturing, almost any industry you can name, as well as a lot of government agencies, colleges, universities," said workplace psychologist Marie McIntyre.

Seymour's university lets workers decide the amount of time. Some companies ask for a week off, others offer a few "furlough Fridays."

McIntyre says before you volunteer, make sure you can afford it.

"If you're having trouble making your mortgage payment or putting food on the table, that's not the time you want a pay cut," said McIntyre.

But it's also important to consider how saying no will "play" in your office. Politics count.

"You'll see the CEO taking time off," said McIntyre. "Most employees will be signing up for furloughs, and if you don't, then you risk looking like a selfish Grinch who's just concerned with enhancing your own paycheck."

On the other hand, if top executives believe they're too critical to operations to be absent, you don't want to come across as expendable. If you want or think it's necessary to volunteer, workplace attorney Garry Matthiasson says it's critical to have a discussion with your employer.

"And a written understanding of the nature of the furlough they're on," said Matthiason.

Including how the furlough will impact your pay, health insurance, seniority, vacation time and retirement benefits.

"If the total number of weeks or hours lost is great enough, it could adversely affect your accumulation of time on a 401(k) plan or on a pension plan," said Matthiason.

Lynette Seymour is not worried about any impact on her benefits. She's happy to do her part to cut costs during tight times.

"We all volunteer in other ways in our lives and this is just another way," said Seymour.

Marie McIntyre says if you do take a voluntary furlough, use the time wisely. In fact, you may want to start a new job search because sometimes when a company offers voluntary furloughs, layoffs are not far behind.


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