Many clients have been asking the best way to handle changes in employees’ (employment) status, with respect to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is an outline, from a Human Resources perspective with regards to what your options and limitations, as an employer, are


A furlough involves reducing the days or weeks an employee may work. Generally non-exempt employees can have a reduction in days or hours without liability.

  • Employee can use accrued PTO
  • Employee is eligible for unemployment benefits
  • Employee is eligible for Emergency Paid Sick Leave – 2/3 of their pay for a total of 80 hours under the following conditions:
    1. If company is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order
    2. When advised by health care provider to self-quarantine
    3. For seeking medical diagnosis for symptoms of COVID-19
    4. To care for an individual who qualifies under #1 or #2 (2/3 pay)
    5. To care for child if school or place of care is closed (2/3 pay)
    6. When experiencing other substantially similar condition (2/3 pay)
  • Furloughed employees can stay on the employer’s medical insurance and other benefit plans at the level in which they currently participate provided they remain eligible under their employer’s plan
  • If an exempt employee works during the workweek even if for 1 hour (including from home) they are entitled to their full weekly salary


A layoff involves terminating employees. A layoff can be temporary or permanent depending on how the employer wants to handle the employee.

  • Employer to payout any monies owned to employee such as accrued PTO
  • Employee is eligible for unemployment benefits

Hours Reduction – Non-Exempt Employees

  • Employers can reduce the salaries of employees but must be mindful of class of employee and regulations of what you can do
  • Employee is eligible for unemployment benefits
  • Employee only needs to be paid for hours worked
  • Certain states have reporting time pay, which would be applicable if you send them home before their shift is complete (RI, MA, DC, CT)
  • A reduction in hourly wage may require a certain amount of notice under state law and cannot be retroactive if you are mid pay-period


Pay Reduction – Exempt Employees

  • No partial day deductions ever – You can fill in with paid time off.
  • You can implement a pay cut, either for everyone or for certain departments or types of jobs.
  • Be cautious of any unintentional discrimination.
  • Employees must remain above the federal minimum salary for exempt employees ($684/week) or the higher state minimum. No prorating permitted.

The above information is provided to help guide employers during this difficult time. If you are still unsure on what to do please consult an employment attorney.

Additional detail and information can be found on the DOL site below: