In this uncertain time of crisis whether you let employees go or not may not be optional. But what to call it if you need to?
A furlough is a planned work stoppage. Say, you own a ski resort/water slide park and you love your employees and want them back, but come April 1st there is no more snow. You will need them in two months when the weather warms and your water park opens. The easy solution is to furlough them for the two months. A furlough is a sort of guarantee between the employer and the employee – you promise to have a job for them when the furlough ends and they promise to come back. In this crisis, this may be the closest method of not paying employees for a time, even though no one planned this work stoppage exactly.
A lay off is slightly different and may fit your situation at this time. A lay off assumes that you don’t know when and if you will need that employee back but that they are being let go because you don’t have work for them, not because they did anything wrong. There is no agreement that you will hire the employee back and they have no obligation to come back when you need workers again. They are free to find another job and you are free to find a new employee when you need one.
Under normal circumstances these two terms do make a difference to the employee when they file for unemployment. Under a furlough an employee can file for unemployment after seven days of no work, and there is no requirement that they look for other employment. Under a lay off an employee may file for unemployment after the seven day waiting period but is obligated to seek other employment right away.
During this crisis however the California EDD guidance says as of March 19, that if you are temporarily out of work (laid off) and plan to return to the same employer, you do not need to meet the usual requirement of looking for work while you are collecting unemployment insurance. However, if you are not attached to a particular employer with a job to return to, you are required to look for work while collecting benefits. You can do that from home, for example, by searching for jobs online.
The seven day waiting period has been waived for all filers during this time. How long benefits will last is unclear at this writing. However there is a promise of extension of benefits for filers through the Federal relief package.