How to Explore Contracting While Furloughed

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As the job market adjusts in the wake of coronavirus shutdowns, many employees have been furloughed — a state of temporary joblessness that pauses paychecks but may extend non-pay benefits until payroll funding can resume. 

Can furloughed employees take contract jobs without risking their current position or benefits?

Yes, but it’s worth doing a little research on how to handle the particulars.

We talked to experienced recruiter lead Candice Johnson to find out more. “We’re getting a lot of folks who have been furloughed and are looking for temporary work.” says Johnson.

If you’re in the same situation, you might want to explore the following aspects of taking on a contract assignment during your furlough period.

Learn as much as possible about furloughs

Regulations regarding furloughed employees, pay, benefits and required notifications can vary from state to state and industry to industry. Take time to learn about health benefit regulations that could apply to you. 

The more you know about furloughs, the more specific you’ll be able to get in any conversation, and the more informed you’ll be when making judgment calls about issues such as benefit continuance, household budgets and income. 

Finding all this out — and then making an informed decision — can be a daunting proposition.

“We have a lot of information,” says Johnson. “We provide candidates with all the information we have so they know what they can and can’t do and let them decide.”

Learn the details of your specific furlough situation 

With so much at stake, it can’t hurt to check back in with your employer or manager to see what they can tell you about their expectations. 

In most cases, they’ll tell you what they know about how soon after your local government lifts a stay-at-home restriction they expect you to return, or how much notice they’d give before reactivating your employment. It doesn’t hurt to ask. 

Before you explore contracting, you’ll want as much information as possible. That way you can be transparent with everybody involved. 

In the meantime, know that you may have employers interested in your skills on even a short-term basis. 

“Whether it’s a two-month project or four weeks,” says Johnson, “there are positions for skilled candidates to come in and clean things up before getting back to their original job in June or July.” 

Be honest and transparent with everybody involved

It’s likely your contract recruiter will contact your permanent employer as a reference to gauge your fit and commitment for the contract job. 

Prepare both sides for that conversation.

By contacting your manager to tell them you’re looking for some short-term work during your furlough, you might even get new information about your eventual restart. 

This could even help an added layer of specificity for the contracts you’ll be looking into — you might need a three-week project instead of a four-week commitment, or potential for a permanent placement later. 

“The more honest and open you are with your employer the easier it is for them,” says Johnson. “People understand. We’re all going through this together.”

Expand your horizons

To generalize and diversify your skills, consider trying out a new field or industry as you investigate contract assignments during a furlough period. 

Johnson has seen an increased demand for professional service roles such as customer service, data entry and project management, especially in the financial services and mortgage industries. 

According to Johnson, dedication to fulfilling the requirements throughout the entire duration is the deciding factor in selecting contractor candidates. 

“We’re not struggling to find candidates,” says Johnson, “so commitment level is key.”

Rely on your recruiter for information 

Skilled recruiting partners will advocate on your behalf for a contract placement that could stretch your resume in a new direction. But they also get up-to-the minute information about your specific job market. 

A knowledgeable partner has information you couldn't find out alone, such as which companies had been looking to hire before lockdown, or what industries have an influx of new work right now. 

“I’m going to tell you the reason for the opening,” says Johnson. “There could be an influx of work related to coronavirus, or sometimes they had budget approval to hire 100 people this year, which could open up again down the line.”

With conditions changing daily, it’s good to have as many honest and direct conversations as possible. There’s less reason than ever to worry that people won’t understand what you’re going through. Stay open, and let people know exactly what you’re worried about. 

They’ll want to help.

Because, as Johnson mentioned, we’re all going through this together.