With so many businesses shuttered to stop the spread of the coronavirus, millions of people have lost their jobs, and millions more have been furloughed for the duration of the crisis. While the initial cuts came in professions like retail and other service industries, it’s forecasted that as the virus continues to spread, the economic ramifications will too—and the design industry is no exception. Many interiors firms, brands and manufacturers of all sizes have already begun to make tough financial decisions about where to cut costs in order to weather the economic shutdown, and many more will be forced to confront the issue in the weeks ahead.
Below, we’ve rounded up answers to questions you may have during this unprecedented time.
What’s the difference between being laid off and being furloughed?
Even a few weeks ago, furloughing employees was not a common practice, so it’s understandable if there’s some confusion around this distinction. When an employee is furloughed, there is the expectation that they get to return to their job when the circumstances allow them to. Being laid off means that there is no promise of returning to the position.
When the furlough period has ended, the employer and the furloughed employee revisit the arrangement; the employer can then choose to extend the furlough, bring the employee back on or terminate their employment. Throughout the furlough period, the employee is also able to search for new work without penalty.
Can I collect unemployment if I’m furloughed?
Yes, absolutely. Whether you’ve permanently or temporarily lost your job, you can apply for unemployment benefits. Under the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, the relief bill passed by Congress on March 27, gig workers, freelancers and the self-employed also qualify for unemployment payments for lost income.
You may apply for unemployment in person, over the phone or online. The payment you receive is based on what you used to earn and aims to replace about half of your previous income, but this can vary state to state.
What happens to my health insurance?
If you’re furloughed, you may still be eligible for benefits, including health insurance, so check with your employer. This depends on the insurance policy the business has and what the business owner decides to do.
If your employment has been terminated, you won’t qualify for benefits, but will be able to apply for continuation of health coverage under the federal COBRA program for a certain period of time, though you have to pay premiums yourself. Another option is to purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act at healthcare.gov. When you’re signing up for ACA coverage, the registration portal will also tell you whether you qualify for Medicaid or if your children qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Plan.
Why would a business let employees go versus furloughing?
While a ton of factors go into a decision like that, this could come down to whether or not a business is obligated to pay out benefits, sick leave and vacation time. Depending on state laws, some businesses are required to pay out paid medical and family leave. If a business cannot afford to do so, it may choose to terminate employees instead of furloughing them.
Are there any laws around when an employer can furlough a worker or lay a worker off?
Not unless you’re in a union that has a contract with specific language about this issue. Otherwise, businesses are free to let employees go as they see fit, as long as it isn’t discriminatory against a person’s race or sex.
What should I do if I’ve been laid off or furloughed?
First things first—apply for unemployment. Because roughly 10 million people are currently out of work nationwide, expect longer-than-usual wait times in person or on the phone. After you’ve done that, look into the CARES Act. There are additional specific payments allocated to people who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19-related shutdowns.
If you need access to cash immediately, have a 401(k) retirement account and are younger than 59, you can withdraw as much as $100,000 without incurring the 10 percent penalty, which has been temporarily waived under the CARES Act. The act also includes some relief options available for your bills. Federally held student loan payments, for example, are suspended through September of this year; there are also protections for renters and those who have mortgages.
Lastly, financial experts recommend creating a budget and sticking to it, so avoid the urge to de-stress by online shopping. Consider using the interim to update your resume so that when companies begin hiring again, you’re ready to go.
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