In the United States, a furlough (/ˈfɜːrl/; from Dutch: verlof, "leave of absence") is a temporary leave of employees due to special needs of a company or employer, which may be due to economic conditions at the specific employer or in the economy as a whole. These involuntary furloughs may be short or long term, and many of those affected may seek other temporary employment during that time.

Federal government

In the United States, involuntary furloughs concerning federal government employees may be of a sudden and immediate nature. Such was the case in February 2010, when a single United States Senate objection prevented emergency funding measures from being implemented. As a result, 2,000 federal workers for the Department of Transportation were immediately furloughed as of March 1, 2010.[1] The 2nd-longest such shutdown was December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996, which affected all non-essential employees, shutting down many services including National Institutes of Health, visa and passport processing, parks, and many others. This happened again on October 1, 2013,[2] and on January 19, 2018.

The United States Congress failed to pass a re-authorization of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, and as a result, furloughed about 4,000 workers at midnight on July 22, 2011.

Potential furlough in 2011

Congress was on the verge of forcing a government shutdown on April 8, 2011, if their plan to reduce the federal budget deficit was not resolved, which would have caused the furlough of 800,000 out of two million civilian federal employees.[3][4]

Furloughs in 2013

The first federal government furloughs of 2013 went into effect as a result of budget sequestration (or sequester) – the automatic spending cuts in particular categories of federal outlays. (This procedure was first used in the Gramm–Rudman–Hollings Balanced Budget Act of 1985.) The sequesters were designed to take place if the federal deficit exceeded a set of fixed deficit targets. In 2013 specifically, sequestration refers to a section of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) that was initially set to begin on January 1, 2013, as an austerity fiscal policy. These cuts were postponed by two months by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 until March 1, when this law went into effect. At that time, most federal departments and agencies began furloughing their employees in order to meet their spending cut targets. For the Department of Defense, almost all of the civilian workforce as well as most full-time, dual-status military technicians of the National Guard and the Reserves were affected. The initial furlough requirement was 176 working hours per affected employee, which was later cut to 88 hours. Due to cost-cutting measures in other areas, this furlough was further reduced to a total of 48 working hours per DoD civilian and full-time Reserve Component member.

Later, on October 1, 2013, at 12:01 am EDT, Congress' inability to agree on a spending bill led to a government shutdown. During the shutdown, most "non-essential" government employees were furloughed. This resulted in approximately 800,000 government workers being put on a leave beginning October 1. Congress later unanimously voted to restore pay to the furloughed workers.[5][6]

2018–19 Furloughs

Due to the government shutdown starting on December 22, 2018, approximately 350,000 federal employees were furloughed for 35 days until January 25th, 2019.[7]


Board members of various school districts as well as universities implemented "furlough days" in 2009. This made students pay the same rate, if not more for their education while providing fewer educational days by forcing educators and staff members to take the day off. In states such as Georgia, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia included a clause so that mandatory furlough days are implemented but no classes are lost during the 2009–2010 academic year.[8]

In California, the State Employee Trades Council (SETC) voted to implement a mandatory two-day-per-month furlough policy for the staff and faculty of the CSU system.[9] The furloughs, intended to prevent layoffs, began in August 2009, and ended in June 2010. The 10% cut saved about $270 million of the CSU's $564 million budget deficit.[10]

Private sector

During the global recession of 2009 companies such as Intel, Toyota, and Gannett implemented furloughs.[11]

In the federal government shutdown of 2013 federal contractors such as Lockheed Martin and United Technologies considered furloughing their own employees.[12]

Other uses

The term furlough in employment can also refer to annual leave, long service leave, time off based on a company-planned schedule. For example, with a "work three weeks, off one week" schedule, a company's workforce is divided into four groups. Each group, in turn, takes a week off on furlough while the remainder work. It can also refer to a vacation from missionary work, military leave, or, in the case of convicts, parole, probation, conjugal visit, or work release.

See also


  1. "Sen. Bunning Single-handedly Causes 2,000 Federal Worker Furloughs". Blogs.abcnews.com. 2010-03-01. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  2. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original on September 28, 2005. Retrieved 2010-09-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  3. Charles Riley, staff reporter (2011-04-06). "Shutdown: 800,000 federal workers in the dark". Money.cnn.com. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  4. "Government Prepares for Shutdown". Online.wsj.com. 2011-04-06. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  5. Korte, Gomez, Gregory, Alan (October 5, 2013). "Congress likely to restore pay for furloughed workers". USA Today.
  6. Schmidt, Michael S.; Shanker, Thom; Siddons, Andrew (September 28, 2013), "Federal Agencies Lay Out Contingency Plans for Possible Shutdown", The New York Times
  7. Guida, Victoria (January 9, 2019). "Shutdown's economic damage: $1 billion a week". Politico. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  8. "Furlough Information - Human Resources". University System of Georgia. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  9. "Members of State Employees Trades Council Ratify Tentative Agreement for 2009-2010 | CSU | Public Affairs". Calstate.edu. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  10. Fontana, Cyndee (July 18, 2010). "Furloughs over for schools in the CSU - Education". The Modesto Bee. Archived from the original on 2013-10-05. Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  11. "Employee Furloughs Can Be a Bad Alternative to Layoffs". ERE.net. February 9, 2009. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  12. "United Technologies, Lockheed Martin Revise Furlough Plans After Pentagon Brings Workers Back". The Motley Fool. October 7, 2013. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
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