How Do You Furlough A Salaried Employee?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last week, you know that Governor Paterson attached a mandatory furlough for all Executive Branch employees to the latest emergency spending bill, which furlough would mean that all affected employees would work 20% less and get 20% less pay.

Everyone is talking about it, and there are all kinds of questions being asked.  Many are up in arms, pursuing various strategies to prevent the furloughs from happening based on the notion that such a tactic is illegal.  I suspect they are probably right.

But MY biggest question is more philosophical and abstract:  How, exactly, do you "furlough" a SALARIED employee?  If you are paid by the hour, this is a no-brainer.  You don’t work, you don’t get paid.  This happens all the time in, for example, manufacturing jobs.  If you work on an assembly line and the line is down for mechanical reasons or the shipment of raw materials is late and there are no widgets to be made that day, the workers are called and told not to come in.  If there’s no work, there’s no need for workers.  Plain and simple.  Over-simplified: Workers paid an hourly wage are paid for their time.

But as I have always understood it, salaried workers are paid for their JOB.  Every hiring is a negotiation in which the employer discloses the nature of the position and the prospective employee and the employer agree upon an annual salary which will compensate the employee for performing those duties.  It is, in essence, an annual fee split up over (in my case) 26 pay periods per year.  

Being paid to do a job is different than being paid for your time.  If this week "getting it done" requires 50 hours, I will work 50 hours, including long days and weekends if necessary.  If next week is a slow week in my work cycle, maybe I’ll only be here for 35.  That’s how it works.  But some of the answers to frequently-asked questions about this impending furlough are leaving me slack-jawed in utter disbelief.  Based on what I have heard, we will be told that we MUST take this time off (amounting to one full day a week).  The reason?  Workman’s Compensation does not cover someone who is in the workplace but not getting paid to be there.  So what happens to an employee who decides to work on a Saturday to get caught up and has an accident?  Are they not covered either?  That runs counter to everything I’ve ever been told about working as a salaried employee.  I understand that "40 hours" is the work week norm, but what if I was staring down the barrel of a 60-hour week?  Let’s say I KNEW I was going to have to work 60 hours next week to make a deadline.  80% of 60 hours is 48 hours.  If I’m being furloughed 20%, does that mean I should only work 48 hours next week?

I don’t have to account for my time unless I’m declaring vacation or sick time.  How the hell are they going to "account" for a salaried employee’s time in an average week and tell them to not work 20% of it?  They CAN’T!  It’s ludicrous on the face of it and defies all logic and common sense.  

OK…I need to stop thinking about this or I’ll get a headache.  Though I reserve the right to craft an "…and another thing!" entry.  Possibly several.

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One thought on “How Do You Furlough A Salaried Employee?

  1. You’re over-complicating this. Your weekly salary is being reduced by 20%, and you’re being ordered not to work one day in compensation. Period.

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