Furlough started as a word for time off from military duty. It spread from there to other types of time off, including an employer furloughing (or laying off) employees.

If you're in the military — a pretty tough job — you're probably looking forward to a furlough. That's a leave of absence or bit of time off, kind of like a break or vacation. That kind of a furlough is a great chance for some rest and relaxation. Outside the military, to furlough still means to grant a leave of absence to someone, but often it's a permanent vacation: if your boss furloughed you, he fired you.

Definitions of furlough
  1. noun
    a temporary leave of absence, especially from military duty
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    type of:
    leave, leave of absence
    the period of time during which you are absent from work or duty
  2. verb
    grant a leave to
    “The prisoner was furloughed for the weekend to visit her children”
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    type of:
    allow, countenance, let, permit
    consent to, give permission
  3. verb
    dismiss, usually for economic reasons
    synonyms: lay off
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    dismiss from work
    type of:
    can, dismiss, displace, fire, force out, give notice, give the axe, give the sack, sack, send away, terminate
    terminate the employment of; discharge from an office or position
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