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How to Field (and answer) Your Staff’s Concerns About Furlough, Stimulus Packages and Layoffs During the Pandemic

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Good Morning,

I’m going out on a limb today to address a few topics I’m being asked about multiple times a day. I’m doing this with the caveat that I am not an attorney, and this is not legal advice by any stretch of the imagination. I’m basing information on experience, and guidance from trusted resources, including legal, to interpret what’s happening to the best of my ability.

Stimulus Package and Unemployment Benefits

Many of you are facing the difficult decision of laying off some or all of your employees. The stimulus package increases unemployment by $600 per week for up to four months. The current Oregon weekly minimum is $126, and the maximum is $538. Actual amounts an employee receives will still be based on approval, wage review, etc. Please do not guarantee employees unemployment in anything you give or say to them.

Also, keep in mind – there is still much about this we don’t know, and it IS NOT in effect yet and must be signed by Congress first. It goes to them tomorrow, Friday. And, as we’re learning, anything can happen between now and then.

Furlough Versus Layoff

I think there is a lot of confusion around these two words, so I’ve come up with an analogy I believe might help clarify the differences.

You’re building a house, and a shipment for the critical next step gets stuck in Illinois due to bad weather. You can’t move forward without this shipment, but the second it arrives, the crew is back to work. There’s no question the delivery is coming, and the job will continue. That’s a furlough. Typically a furlough is less than four weeks. There are other types, but this is one example.

We have no idea how long COVID-19 will last or the ultimate financial impact. The uncertainty is what pushes it into the layoff category.

Furlough and medical insurance

There have been statements that someone on furlough can stay on insurance. If you note the example above, often an employer put them on furlough status, and then bring them back the moment the work starts up – typically within four-weeks. Insurance isn’t impacted because they don’t drop below their hours to be eligible for insurance for 30-days, which is often the criteria for insurance coverage. A furlough in and of itself does not allow an employee to keep their insurance.

Medical Insurance with a layoff

Many of you are concerned employees can’t afford COBRA if they are laid off, understandably. If you are financially able, you may elect to cover all or a portion of their COBRA. I would just be sure you’re clear about the duration you’re willing to do this in your layoff letter. Also, indicate they must elect COBRA, and then you pay the premium to the carrier.

You can also share this link with employees for the Oregon Healthcare Marketplace


You might also want to provide some sort of lump sum payment to help employees with expenses if you lay them off. If you’re able to do this, that’s fine. Just document it in the layoff letter.

April 1st

As a reminder, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) now goes into effect April 1st, NOT April 2nd, as originally indicated by DOL. That means any active employee, full or part-time, is eligible under the ACT as of that day. For more details on FFCRA here is a link to a recently developed DOL poster I think is helpful:

I’m sure there will be more information tomorrow – maybe even today, so please stay tuned.

If you would prefer not to receive these emails, as I know everyone is inundated with information, please email me to stop. I’m not doing this through a mail server as I’m only sending them to a small, select group of people, so you’ll need to let me know personally and do not have the option to unsubscribe through a link.

Please reach out with questions. I’m here to help you.

Christine Frazer, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

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