Career Advice

Furloughed Employees: Should You Tell Your Employer You Are Job Hunting?

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The pandemic has upended many businesses, with some companies furloughing employees. A furlough is a mandatory, temporary leave of absence from work. It often leaves employees in an uncomfortable middle ground: They have a job, but they can’t go to it. And while benefits such as health and life insurance typically remain, furloughs are often taken without pay and perks.

Terry McDougall, career coach and author of “Winning the Game of Work,” says that companies often furlough employees when they are no longer able to pay them “but would like to maintain the employee relationship so they can call them back when the economic challenge has passed.”

But there’s no guarantee that employees will be called back, McDougall points out. (In fact, she says she’s worked with clients who’ve waited several months to be called back into work only to find out they never will.) That’s why McDougal says that while loyalty to your current employer is important, “your first loyalty needs to be to yourself.” In other words, it’s totally OK and brilliant to look for another job — perhaps even one that pays more — while you’re on furlough.

However, if you decide to start a job search, McDougal recommends you don’t tell your current employer. It’s not about lying: “There’s no guarantee that the employee will find a job,” she says, “and it’s not really the business of your employer what you do on your own time.” What’s more, if your employer does have an opportunity to bring back some employees, “they may decide not to bring someone back if they believe that person may leave soon anyway,” McDougal explains.

Instead, McDougal says, it’s important to diversify your opportunities: “Maintain the possibility that you’ll be called back to your old job when the business improves while also exploring if there are other opportunities that you may be qualified for,” she says. “Don’t diminish the possibility that you will not be called back because your employer thinks you’re ‘already gone.’” 

If you start your job search and your employer catches wind of your efforts, then you’ll need to be transparent at that point. McDougal says you should tell your employer that you’re exploring your options if you’re not called back after the furlough. “Employers should understand that if they are not paying employees that they cannot expect the employees to sit and just wait for the possibility that they are called back,” she says. “The employee can let the employer know that they would very much like to be called back, and that’s their first choice — but that they need to take their own well-being and ensure that they have the income to support themselves.” 

For some, it might be scary to look for another job while you’re on furlough. But McDougal has some encouraging and motivating words: “You own your career, and you need to take full responsibility for it,” she says. “Companies will lay off employees with little-to-no notice when it suits the business. Employees should always be looking to trade their skills and experience to the employer who provides them with the best value in exchange for those skills.”

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