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Ask HR: Can I Ask to Be Furloughed?

A man in a blue suit posing for a photo.

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.


Question: Can I ask my employer to furlough me? I feel stressed, concerned for my family and my job is high risk. I'm a driver and am forced to go into other companies that have had confirmed cases of the virus. Thanks, Johnny. —Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: This is a good question—and I have a short answer.

Yes, you could ask to be furloughed. But before you do, ask yourself: Is this truly the right move?

Thirty-one percent of employers have laid off workers, and 15 percent have permanently cut headcount with no intent to rehire. With that in mind, I'd caution you against making a big decision solely based on fear.

If your company is already implementing furloughs, you can tactfully request one. However, your employer is not obliged to grant your request—and it could offend or upset your boss. The bottom line here, though, is you can't refuse to come to work based on anxiety over exposure alone.

So, yes, you could ask to be furloughed. But with some 33 million jobless claims filed in the last seven weeks, I would carefully weigh whether furlough is your best bet. I can't say what you should do, though, since I don't know your financial situation, or if you live with someone especially at-risk of contracting COVID-19. After all, those are key factors to consider in deciding what's right for you and your family.

This pandemic is forcing us all to make difficult decisions. I hope this feedback makes yours at least a little easier.


Question: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, my company had to do several layoffs, and I was one of those who got cut. I've been applying for new positions, only to find that many of the places I am interested in have implemented hiring freezes. Any advice on how to move forward during these circumstances? Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I am sorry to hear you were laid off. But it's great this difficulty hasn't deterred you. After all, putting your search on pause could mean missing out on the job you want.

The key here is recognizing there is opportunity in every challenge. While many companies aren't hiring, some are—so think about where demand is rising under lockdown. To name a few: Shipping and delivery, online learning, and digital communications.

In addition, you could also search for an essential job. You didn't mention what you did before, or in which industry, but these pandemic-resistant roles exist in virtually every sector, from technology and health care to agriculture and law enforcement. For ideas, see the list of essential workers released by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

That said, just because a company isn't hiring now it doesn't mean it's not recruiting for the future. Many employers are still reviewing applications or conducting remote informational interviews, so keep submitting your resume and requesting more information. Being proactive sends a positive message to hiring managers: You're resilient and eager to get back to work. 

Lastly, remember this crisis is temporary. The economy will recover, businesses will re-open—and you will land a job.

So, keep your head up. And stay at it!