Employers sometimes use furloughs to temporarily mandate time off work for workers without pay for various reasons. Most often furloughs are implemented when a company's expenses exceed its revenues and there is an immediate need to balance its budget.
In some instances, such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic, furloughs are used to ensure employee safety and health in addition to decreasing expenses.
Government furloughs are used in the event that "there is a lapse in appropriations, and can occur at the beginning of a fiscal year, if no funds have been appropriated for that year, or upon expiration of a continuing resolution, if a new continuing resolution or appropriations law is not passed, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
The current Congressional debate over funding of the U.S. government comes with the threat of a major furlough which could affect three out of five federal workers.