Unpaid Furloughs and Four-Day Work Weeks: Employer Sympathy or a Call for Collective Employee Action?
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In these tough economic times, employers have responded by pursuing four-day work weeks and other mechanisms that change the components of the standard five-day work week. Although four-day work weeks provide some savings in the form of reduced operating and energy costs and have received recent notice for also being family-friendly and environmentally friendly, current dismal economic prospects have inspired employers to pursue other work week changes to achieve further savings. Furloughs, also referred to as unpaid days off, represent a form of a reduced work week as employees do not work during their furloughed time and receive no income for those hours. Furloughs have become more prevalent as employers have offered this option to employees as a major cost-cutting action and as a unique response to the current recession. In some situations, employers have mandated these furloughs without consulting employees. In other situations, furloughs have been presented as a sympathetic action by an employer seeking to help employees by not pursuing layoffs. In the midst of a nearly unprecedented jobs crisis, employees have few options when responding to these wage-cutting initiatives. This Article offers a strategy to assist employees in developing a comprehensive response to an employer's planned furloughs. Through collective action, employees and their unions can navigate these difficult economic times and focus on the one benefit that would significantly aid financially-distressed workers: paid leave. Either through legislative action or union-negotiated agreements, employees must band together and respond collectively to furlough initiatives by exploring all other cost-cutting measures and by seizing upon this time to seek paid leave benefits.
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