Check your contract. Look for the following items:
- What is required to terminate the agreement?
- What are the consequences for terminating the agreement prematurely?
- What language, if any, covers unexpected events like this furlough?
I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. The goal of this information is to provide guidance on where to look to find what is written yourself and is not meant to be a substitute for proper legal advice.
Most contracts will have a whole section discussing how the contract can be terminated (though important information can be hidden in the rest of the contract). Most employment contracts are relatively one-sided (the employer has a lot more rights to terminate the contract than the employee).
Look carefully through this section to see what the process is for the employee to terminate. Things like:
- Can the employee terminate for cause? (For instance, if the employee is not paid, are they allowed to terminate the agreement?)
- What is the notice period?
- Does the notice period start from notification or from receipt of the notice?
If you terminate early, what consequences (if any) does the contract say you have? For instance, some employment contracts may state that training expenses, or relocation expenses have to be reimbursed to company if the agreement is terminated early. Go through the contract and make sure there are no hidden traps if you do leave the agreement. While these should be in the termination clause, lawyers love to make things confusing for laymen reading them and may hide this wording somewhere else in the contract.
The point is that you want to know what will happen if you just get up and leave in the worst-case scenario.
See if your contract specifically addresses the possibility of furloughs and how they are handled. There is the possibility that these are hidden under a section about Force Majeure which often includes government action. If there is a section describing this, it may explain whether you will be given back pay, or what your rights are to leave, etc.
If this isn't covered in the contract anywhere, there is a possibility that the company is in breach of contract, though you should consult with a lawyer to be certain.
If you determine that notice is required, I would mail a resignation letter to your office. If you send it registered mail, nobody will be at the office to receive it I assume, so that probably isn't a great way, but at least you will have a post mark and a dated resignation letter waiting on your boss' desk when he gets back.
If receipt of notice is required, you are kind of stuck. As mentioned you may want to contact your new employer, explain the situation (2 weeks is required after receipt of notice, but nobody is around to receive notice), and hopefully they will understand and be willing to wait.
In all past shutdowns, employees received back pay after the shutdown was ended. If you resign during the shutdown, you should be willing to forgo that back pay in a worst-case scenario. Also realize that, despite the extraordinary circumstances, this will cause a strain on your coworkers who have to catch up on weeks of work and are short-handed. While they may understand the reason you are doing it, don't expect them to be happy about it.