What Do These 7 Employment Terms Actually Mean?

The dialogue surrounding unemployment has almost become as daunting as the issue itself. Job uncertainty is stressful enough. Don’t let the jargon give you more anxiety. Here are a few words and phrases you should know to go into any conversation about employment empowered:


If you get furloughed, you didn’t lose your job; you just lost your paycheck….for a little while. Macy’s will likely furlough the majority of its 130,000 employees. One of the implications of a furlough is that the job might not be there for you to return to in the future. Macy’s, for example, might not be able to keep all of its stores open after an economic reopen, which means some furloughed workers will return and others will not. If you are furloughed, the good news is that you are still entitled to unemployment pay. As far as insurance and benefits go, you can check here. Most will still have coverage for 4-12 months with the new spending plans enacted by Congress from the date of furlough, but it depends on your type of job.

Unemployment Rate

Why does it seem like every single media outlet reports its own unemployment numbers?! The answer is simple (ish). There are a bunch of unemployment rates, six of them to be exact, starting with U1 and going to U6. Every media outlet (and every person you went to high school with on social media) can choose to comment on whichever one best aligns with their voice. The “official” unemployment rate most spoken of is the “U3” which is technically the total amount of people unemployed as a percent of the workforce. If you’re curious about the others, U4 gives us the rate of total unemployed, plus discouraged workers. U5 gives us that, plus all other people “marginally” attached to the workforce (people who are not working, not looking, but say they would like a job and have tried in the past 12 months). U6 is the whole shebang, as it’s all of that, plus the total number of people employed part-time that would like to work full-time but cannot find full-time work…that’s referred to as “underemployed.” So while the go-to unemployment rate is the U3, the others give us a better picture of what’s really going on. Any combination of these rates can be written into formulas for…

The Jobs Report

This is the big kahuna report of them all. On the first Friday of every month, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics releases The Jobs Report. It includes information from two monthly surveys: the household survey and the establishment survey. The household survey measures the status of the labor force by demographic and the establishment survey measures employment, hours and earning by industry. When reading about this report, you’ll usually hear about “non-farm payroll” numbers. The reason it’s listed that way is that farming jobs are seasonal and using them will skew the data. The Jobs Report is incredibly important for Wall Street. Investment companies make educated bets on the direction of the economy based off of this report every month with banks, and the world, reacting accordingly. The fluctuation of interest rates, mortgage rates, lending, and lines of credit are all influenced by this report.

Unemployment Claims

Like The Jobs Report, unemployment claims are an essential indicator of the health of the economy. These numbers are reported weekly. The Labor Department provides unemployment benefits to eligible workers who become unemployed at no fault of their own. This means if you got furloughed, laid-off, or have “separated from your last job due to a lack of available work” (like related to COVID-19). Each state has its own requirements, so it’s necessary to check them out depending on where you live.


Different from a furlough, being laid off means you have lost your job and will not get it back. Unless you’re an “at-will” employee, getting laid off usually requires sufficient notice. Although there are some instances where a layoff is temporary, in most cases, you’ll have to get a new job. Common reasons people get laid off include recessions, poor company performance, company downsizing, restructuring, or going out of business. As far as losing your job goes, it can be seen as a best-case scenario because it doesn’t reflect negatively on you while simultaneously allowing you to collect unemployment benefits.

Force Majeure

Similar to being laid off, a force majeure is something out of your control. French for “a superior force,” it is often included in contracts to make sure employers aren’t held responsible in the case of, let’s say, an act of God (like a pandemic). While it is still unclear how companies will use this clause moving forward, a force majeure clause can seriously loosen the grip of contractual obligations.

Paid Sick Leave

As of April 1, 2020, new guidelines were posted for paid employee sick leave under The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. Now, you can get two weeks of paid sick leave at your regular salary if you’re unable to work because of quarantine and/or you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. One of the few prerequisites is working for your employer for at least 30 days before filing.

As our career situations continue to evolve, so will our understanding of what it means to work. The conversations surrounding employment come at you fast, and are now changing every day. Look into your state’s specific resources, get comfortable with the lingo, and you’ll have most of your bases covered.

As our career situations continue to evolve, so will our understanding of what it means to work. Click To Tweet

A version of this article was originally published on Forbes.


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