Why You Shouldn’t Be Accessing Your Emails While Furloughed

You’re bored. You’ve already baked bread, made jam, and painted the kids’ bedrooms. Being out of work (even if receiving sufficient unemployment pay) can be tedious. So, you might be tempted to log in to your work emails and check and see if there’s anything you can do, or simply see what’s going on.

Don’t do it.

Why? Because that is doing actual work, and if you’re furloughed you are not supposed to be working.

It’s not just a no-no, don’t do this it annoys the boss type of thing. There are legal ramifications for your company and there may be job ending ramifications for you.

If you’re a non-exempt (overtime-eligible) employee, you must be paid for all hours worked. Sure, answering a two minute phone call doesn’t count, but anything more than that could put your company in hot water if they don’t pay you.

If you’re an exempt employee (salaried and not eligible for overtime) if you do any work during a week (with the exception of the de minimus two-minute request), they are required to pay you for the entire week.

Your boss doesn’t want that to happen. You may not expect to be paid. You may not even want to be paid. You may just be worried about the business surviving and are happy to volunteer your time to help people out. It sounds lovely. Don’t do it.

If they don’t pay for your work, it’s illegal for the business and they can be hit with fines and still have to pay you. It’s not illegal for you–but they can certainly fire you for the behavior–after they’ve paid you.

You can’t work for a for-profit company for free. If you work for a non-profit you can volunteer your time, but only in a capacity not related to your job. So, if you’re the marketing director for a soup kitchen, you can donate your time to serving soup or doing dishes, but you can’t donate your time to creating a new marketing plan.

So, when you think you’re being kind, you’re actually putting your business at risk. If you’re not being paid, you don’t work.

And managers, if your employees are not receiving paychecks, do not ask them to work.

I know everyone is stressed out about businesses and income, but there are still laws around paying people. Those haven’t gone away–even for nice people.

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5 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Be Accessing Your Emails While Furloughed

  1. That’s why our company disables email and other network access when someone goes on leave; is furlough different? Just curious.

  2. A few years ago as a new supervisor, I explained similar sentiments to staff regarding working outside office hours. They were unhappy with me to say the least – including my boss. I find it unconscionable that bosses at any level are clueless on this aspect of work environment and want subordinates to work without pay. Or the opposite: subordinates are willing to work without pay.

    A college professor quite some time ago had sage advice for students – don’t work if you aren’t going to be paid! He was trying to counsel us to beware of businesses who would want us to work off the clock. He wasn’t against volunteering following proper protocol. It was a good lesson to hear and carry forward.

  3. Work for a non profit as an independent contractor. The non-profit lost their revenue source because of Covid so staff (all indenpendent contractors) were furloughed until the revenue starts again. They can’t pay independent contractors without money to do so. Yes, some work continues and the board has not required anyone to do so. Most of us, like myself, have volunteered to help out, knowing that by helping now, that will ensure the revenue source returns when this pandemic ends. What’s wrong with this? This non profit has no salaried, paid staff. Everyone is an independent contractor.

  4. Thank you. My department director created a group chat while the business was closed, specifically to send us trainings regarding coronavirus prevention and cleanliness in the workplace. I’ve gone nuts trying to help her understand why she should keep all of this lovely information to herself and wait until everyone is paid to take the trainings.

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