Disney to furlough ‘unnecessary’ staff during pandemic shutdown, company announces

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The Walt Disney Company has announced it will furlough “employees whose jobs aren’t necessary at this time” beginning April 19, a spokesperson said Thursday.

It is the world’s largest single-site employer, with more than 75,000 people working for them in Central Florida.

It is the second major theme park in Central Florida to announce mass furloughs, following SeaWorld last week.

Read: SeaWorld to furlough more than 90% of employees due to coronavirus pandemic

Walt Disney World has been paying most of its employees for weeks since the parks shut down March 16, and the hotels March 20.

Disney employees have received full pay and benefits until April 19, for a total of five additional weeks of compensation.

Furloughed employees will remain Disney employees during the furlough, and will receive full health care benefits. Those enrolled in Disney Aspire will have continued access to the education program.

“I thought I was safe from it all and then today I’m just sitting there and then this pops up and then instantly like, ‘What am I going to do?’” said Caroline Suddeth, a Disney employee who is set to be furloughed.

Read: Critical nursing shortage in Florida spurs call for retired medical professionals to return to work

In an internal letter WFTV obtained from a cast member, the company said it is instituting a temporary, short-term furlough for executive, salaried and non-union hourly cast members. Suddeth falls in that category.

“I instantly was like, 'OK, well, how am I supposed to pay my rent because I just signed a lease on a new apartment,” she said.

Employees with available paid time off can elect to use some of it at the start of the furlough period, the spokesperson said.

Once furloughed, they are eligible to receive an extra $600 per week in federal compensation through the $2 trillion economic stimulus bill, as well as state unemployment insurance.

Read: Disney still raises flags despite coronavirus shutdown

Disney said in the internal letter that “the furlough allows us to preserve the jobs of cast members who are and will continue to be an important part of the Disney family, and provide an easier return to work when our communities recover from the impact of COVID-19.”

Suddeth said she plans to file for unemployment immediately.

“I guess I am just playing the waiting game at this point, just hoping they are going to call us back in a month or so and let us know that we have to go back to work,” she said. “It’s all just waiting now.”

Disney is set to have a meeting with unions on Friday.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.