Unpaid Furloughs Instead of Pink Slips - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

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DIVERSITYmandisgruntledNEWAt the quarterly faculty/staff assembly at Stillman College last August, several employees expressed concern about potential layoffs. “I said I would do whatever was necessary to ensure that everyone could keep their jobs,” said Ernest McNealy, president of the Tuscaloosa, Alabama-based HBCU, who thinks of his employees as family. After consulting with staff managers and human resources, McNealy concluded that furloughs were a better option than layoffs and decided that all of the non-teaching employees would have to participate, including himself.

When an employee is furloughed, he/she is required to take a day off without pay. Although furloughs don’t always save as much money as layoffs, they prevent employers from terminating members of a skilled and valuable workforce. With the number of unemployed in the U.S. reaching 14.5 million in May, news that a company will require its employees to take time off without pay may be inconvenient, but compared to a pink slip it is welcome news to most.

Nathaniel Alston, a former national president and a founder of the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources, thinks that furloughs create less dissension than pay cuts and that employees feel like furloughs are temporary. “‘Furlough’ even sounds better than ‘pay cut,’” says Alston, CEO of the Horizons Group, a Maryland-based human resources consulting firm. With a pay cut, he explains, employees are left with the feeling that they’ll never get their previous salary back.

Stillman College designated two furlough days in March, and employees will also be furloughed for two days near the July 4 holiday weekend. This strategy will allow the school to dramatically reduce its energy consumption and the campus will be closed for several days during the hottest time of the year. McNealy anticipates that the July furlough will save $500,000. The furloughs along with other cost-saving methods (utilities abatement and reduced travel) will allow the school to fill a $1 million shortfall.

Take note of Alston’s advice to employers and employees on how to smoothly and effectively implement a furlough program.


Communicate. Explain to your employees that after calculating all of the options, a furlough is the best decision. McNealy and Stillman College’s chief financial officer spoke with the chairs of the academic departments and staff managers to keep the HBCU’s workforce apprised of the college’s financial situation.

Define the terms of the furlough and make sure that employees have an opportunity to ask questions. “Involve your senior human resources person and the head of the company,” says Alston. “Tell them that instead of laying off 50 people, we are going to furlough 200 people but everyone will keep their jobs, and tell them how we’re going to accomplish that.”

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, SocialWayne.com chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining BlackEnterprise.com as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and BlackEnterprise.com helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.

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