Frequently Asked Questions about Furloughs

Updated June 17, 2020

We will continue sharing information about furloughs with all of you as we receive it. In the meantime, see the below Frequently Asked Questions to learn more about our rights during budget cuts.

  • Why is the DSHS, DOH, and DCYF making decisions to enact furloughs?
    • Washington state has a provision in the state constitution that it is required to have a balanced budget and is not able to operate in a deficit, or a budget loss.
    • Governor Jay Inslee and our agencies have decided, in this moment of crisis, to roll out an emergency plan to save money for the current fiscal year. Washington state is projected to lose more than $8.8 billion over the next two years.
    • Because we are a strong union and have strong relationships with elected officials, the 3% raise scheduled for July 1 that we fought for and won in our last contract bargaining cycle is preserved. The furlough plans are a different solution to the budget shortfall with fewer long term implications than cancelling a 3% across-the-board wage increase.
  • What are our rights when being furloughed?
    • We have the right to bargain the impacts of being furloughed when they are announced. DSHS, DOH, and DCYF cannot impose furloughs unless they bargain in good faith the impacts of their actions with us. We have the right to bargain for job security, no loss of healthcare benefits, a process that is fair and equitable (including using a racial justice lens), and a process that guarantees patient safety.
    • DSHS, DOH, and DCYF management cannot independently impose a furlough plan on us. If a manager or supervisor approaches you with a furlough plan — that is called ‘Direct Dealing’ and is illegal. We first have to have a bargained Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreement with the agencies.
  • What are they proposing for our groups? (all proposals below are subject to bargaining)
    • If our position requires a relief employee to cover the furlough shift, we will be exempt from furloughs. We anticipate this means most of us who work in 24/7 facilities will not be impacted by furloughs.
    • If we are in a group that is impacted by the furlough proposal, we will be asked to take one furlough day per week until July 25. After July 25, we will be asked to take one furlough day per month through November 30.
    • Some voluntary furlough options beyond the days outlined above will be offered.
  • What is the difference between layoff and furlough?
    • These are not precisely defined terms, but generally layoff indicates a separation from employment (e.g. an employer is downsizing and lays off some of its staff), whereas a furlough generally means the employment relationship continues, but the furloughed employees are either on reduced schedules or completely away from work for some period of time.
  • Will I be able to receive unemployment benefits if I am on furlough for one day?
    • Because of several emergency actions taken by our state and by the federal governments, there are a few new options available to us through unemployment.
    • Anyone who is eligible for even one dollar of unemployment in a week will receive an additional $600 per week for each week in which you receive any weekly benefits through the end of July 2020, through the Federal CARES Act.
  • Will I be able to receive unemployment benefits if I have a reduction in hours?
    • It depends on how many hours you are working. If your hours are reduced, you may qualify for Partial Unemployment, but your weekly benefits will be reduced based on the amount you continue to earn (called an “Earnings Deduction”). Unless you are working a greatly reduced schedule, it is likely the “Earnings Deduction” will offset the full amount of your weekly benefit and you will not receive any weekly benefit, in which case you also will not receive the $600 supplement through CARES. If your Earnings Deduction is smaller than your weekly benefit, you will still receive the remaining portion of your weekly benefit plus the $600 weekly supplement through CARES.
  • What happens if a manager approaches me and asks and/or demands that I make a furlough plan with them?
    • Document conversations with management about furloughs and send communication to your delegate or organizer or to ambers@seiu1199nw.org. DO NOT agree to anything until you talk to your delegate or organizer.
    • When sending communication to your delegate or organizer, include: Who said what? When did they say it? And who was present to witness it?
  • What are new federal laws expanding unemployment insurance during the pandemic?
    • Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES): Congress significantly expanded availability of unemployment benefits in several ways:
      • Under the CARES Act, we don’t have to be actively seeking work to qualify for unemployment, meaning those of us furloughed or temporarily laid off could draw unemployment.
      • Through July 25, the federal government is funding an additional $600 per week in addition to unemployment benefits.
      • While unemployment benefits are normally available for up to 26 weeks, this law expands that, so unemployment may now be available up to 39 weeks (approximately 9 months), through December 31, 2020.
    • What is the difference between unemployment/UI and CARES?
      • The state offers unemployment benefits to individuals in certain circumstances, and the Federal CARES Act has created the opportunity for people in a number of additional circumstances to receive unemployment benefits as well. The application process for either goes through the same state agency and the benefits received would be considered unemployment, whether the individual qualifies through the state eligibility rules or the CARES eligibility rules.
    • When does my unemployment begin?
      • Washington has waived the one-week waiting period, so benefits should begin as of the date you apply.
    • Governor Inslee has instructed agencies to apply for the SharedWork program. What is that?
      • Employers can apply for ESD’s SharedWork program as a method of reducing job loss, when they need to cut back on staffing. Employees whose hours are reduced, but are still working 50-90% of their normal work hours, may qualify to receive prorated unemployment benefits through the SharedWork program if their employer has applied for it. The ESD has put together a chart, linked here, that calculates the percentage of your weekly benefit amount (WBA) you will be eligible for in the SharedWork program, based on the number of hours you’re working.
      • Employees receiving unemployment in Washington are placed on “standby” through Stay at Home Stay Healthy. See number 10 for more information on standby.
      • If an employer is reducing operations and therefore reducing employees’ hours, the employer can request “Partial” unemployment for the employees, as long as the employees are working at least 16 hours per week.
    • How do unemployment benefits work for on-call or per diem employees?
      • ESD will have to evaluate on a case-by-case basis, but if you have experienced a reduction in work due to COVID-19, you should be able to receive a prorated amount of unemployment benefits to offset the lost income.
      • If you have been temporarily or permanently laid off due to COVID-19, then you should be eligible for unemployment and the amount of benefit will be calculated using your income during your base year.

Where can I find additional resources about benefits and financial assistance?