Fired vs. Laid Off vs. Furloughed — What’s the Difference?

Have you recently lost your job? This may leave you feeling like your career path is suddenly a dead-end road. If so, you aren’t alone. Many professionals have experienced career loss, such as being fired, laid off or furloughed. This can feel frustrating and confusing, so it’s best to understand the basic differences between these common scenarios. Then you can take the adequate steps to take control of your career.

Being Fired

The difference between being laid off and fired is who is at fault. Being fired means you are terminated from your job due to something that the company deems was your fault. If you are laid off, that means the company deems that they are at fault. For example, a professional could be fired for habitual tardiness, stealing or other types of negative behavior.

If you have been fired, you should make sure that you are provided the reason for termination in writing. This is important if you feel that you have been wrongly terminated. It’s also important to speak to your human resources department about important things such as your final payment and severance pay. Keep in mind that severance pay terms vary by organization, so make sure to do your due diligence and find out what you qualify for. You may even be able to negotiate your severance pay based on how long you have been with the company. Unfortunately, if you have been fired you most likely will not qualify for unemployment.

Even if you feel that you were wrongly terminated, avoid speaking negatively about the company you worked for on social media and in your network. Even if the company was in the wrong, this simply doesn’t reflect well on you as a professional and can actually hurt your chances of being contacted by a hiring manager during your job search. While you are clearing things up with the company, it’s best to take the high road. If you are asked what happened during a job interview, simply provide a short but truthful explanation.

What Does Laid Off Mean?

Being laid off means you have lost your job due to changes that the company has decided to make on its end. The difference between being laid off and being fired is that if you are fired, the company considers that your actions have caused the termination. If you are laid off, you didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. For example, employees could be laid off because a company has decided to restructure their organization, they need to downsize a department or they are no longer able to provide jobs for all of their employees. Unfortunately, this is a common situation during the pandemic.

If you have been laid off, it’s best to speak with your HR department and make sure that you have all the necessary exit paperwork you need. Make sure you were given proper notice of your layoff and ask if the company is offering any sort of exit package. Research the steps you need to take to file for unemployment in your state. Also, see if your supervisor would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation and a LinkedIn recommendation. This is helpful because it makes it easier to show potential employers that you were let go for reasons outside of your control, not due to a fault of your own as a professional.

[SEE: 20 Careers With the Most Job Security Right Now.]

What Does Furloughed Mean?

Being furloughed means you are still employed by the company you work for, but you cannot work and cannot receive pay. The difference between being furloughed and being laid off is that a laid-off employee would have to be rehired to work for the company again. If you are furloughed, you may still receive employee benefits and you may be eligible for unemployment during this time. Again, it’s important to talk to your HR department and research your state’s website for more information.

If you are currently furloughed, you can look for side gigs and contract work for income. Reach out to your network connections and find out if some of their businesses are looking for contract workers during this time. There are also some good websites, such as, that make it easy to find contract work.

[READ: 8 Types of Employee Benefits.]

Employee Rights When Furloughed or Laid Off

If you have been furloughed by the company that you work for and they ask you to work during your furlough, they are required to pay you for your time. They cannot force you to work for free. This is actually why many companies prevent furloughed employees from accessing company accounts. You can use the Department of Labor’s website and your state’s website for more detailed information on your rights depending on if you are a salaried employee or work at an hourly rate.

If you have been laid off, you may be entitled to severance pay. Talk to your HR department about any severance pay and if you can receive your final paycheck immediately. Also, employers cannot discriminate when laying off employees. If you have signed a contract with your company, make sure to read it thoroughly in regards to any statements about your continued employment. In this case, if you would be laid off for reasons not stated in your contract, this would be a breach of your contract. You may have additional rights if you belong to a union in your industry. Speak with your union to find out what your particular rights are in these situations.

[READ: 10 Free Online Certification Courses to Advance Your Career.]

No matter what your current employment situation is, you can use this time in a positive way. Take advantage of free online courses to sharpen your skills for your next position and update your job search materials such as your resume, cover letter and your LinkedIn profile. You may also find it helpful to review your professional branding statement and make sure it reflects who you currently are, professionally speaking. Then you will be ready to make your next career move as the economy continues to open up.

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Fired vs. Laid Off vs. Furloughed — What’s the Difference? originally appeared on

Update 06/30/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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