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The number of businesses placing employees on furlough because of the coronavirus pandemic with no definite plan to get them back to work has skyrocketed, belied by the record-breaking number of Americans filing for unemployment insurance.
3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week. One of the most recent major employers to announce a furlough for virtually all workers is Macy's. The department store chain, which employs roughly 130,000 people, told staff in late March that it would continue to pay health benefits and cover 100 percent of premiums at least through May.
But as an end date for the virus lockdown seems unclear, furloughs may feel more like layoffs. Technically, both words denote a cessation of employment, although employers typically use the word "furlough" when the condition is temporary. There's no across-the-board definition for what benefits or packages an employer owes the employee.
In this March 17, 2020, file photo, people wait in line for help with unemployment benefits at the One-Stop Career Center in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
Chains, including the Cheesecake Factory Inc. and SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., and the parent company of Men's Warehouse have furloughed employees as they scramble to conserve cash. Many of these employers must shut their doors because they're not deemed essential businesses.
Amazon employees hold a protest and walkout over conditions at the company’s Staten Island distribution facility on March 30, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Meanwhile, employees at businesses that are staying open despite the virus risk, like grocery stores and e-commerce companies, are staging walkouts to demand hazard pay and other benefits. Both Amazon and Instacart workers planned strikes in late March.