Furloughed is a term with multiple meanings and often widely different effects. Generally, being furloughed refers to a leave of absence, and is often used in military organizations to describe temporary leave from duty. It can also refer to leave from a church mission, a temporary pass away from prison, or from a job. To be furloughed from a job is not always a good thing; it may serve as an interim step toward firing a worker if a company is in financial trouble.
In terms of regular jobs, furloughs are mandatory unpaid leave, often due to budgetary troubles. Regional, state, and Federal employees may be placed on furlough if the government is in serious debt. This may also occur if a state or federal budget is not signed or continued before a previous one expires; at that point, the government may actually be forced to shut down all non-essential jobs until a budget is reached.
To be furloughed from a job may mean a worker has a set period of consecutive days or weeks off, or it may mean switching to an intermittent or reduced schedule. In order to remain open, businesses in financial disarray may reduce the numbers of workers on a shift to the bare minimum by reducing hours across the board, or making each worker take at least one mandatory unpaid day off per week. The business may also close for an extra day or days per week.
Being furloughed from prison may sound like an odd concept, since the whole point of prison is to not permit criminals to be in normal society. In some cases, prisoners must be let out to attend trials as a witness or principal party. Nonviolent prisoners may receive furloughs to visit dying family members or attend funerals. In times of war, nations have furloughed prisoners to become soldiers, notably on the Confederate side of the Civil War. Prisoners are required to return back at specific times and dates, or risk being charged with various additional offenses.
In military terms, being furloughed gives a military worker a short leave of absence, lasting a few days up to several months. This time off may be granted for family business, as a temporary relief from duty, or after completing certain training programs. Often, a military member shipping out for a long period of duty away from his or her own country may be granted a short furlough before leaving to be with family.