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.