Since the beginning of the sequester in March of this year, hundreds of thousands of federal employees have been placed on furlough, or forced leave. About 115,000 federal employees were forced to take unpaid leave when the sequester started. Since then, the number of “involuntary part-timers” (which refers to federal employees on forced leave) has been higher every month than it was in 2012. In July, the number rose to 199,000.
Clearly, the effects of forced leave are vast – the leave is unpaid, and it is uncertain how long the sequester will last. For federal employees, there is a continued risk of being placed on forced leave, losing financial resources, and potentially not having a job to come back to. If you are a federal employee who has been placed on forced leave, you do have options. There are various ways in which you can spend your furlough time, to help in the long run, from taking a course to working on your own website.
What is Forced Leave?
There are two types of forced leave: administrative furlough and shutdown furlough. Generally, when forced leave is the result of sequestration, this results in an administrative furlough. During an administrative furlough, an agency plans to place employees on forced leave as a result of reductions in the budget. Such reductions could come from downsizing, decreased funding, or another situation with the budget of the federal government.
During the sequester, federal government agencies are facing budget reductions across the board. This means that federal employees in nearly every government agency could face forced leave. However, as an employee, you do have legal rights. Your agency must provide at least 30 days notice before a furlough, a furlough cannot start on a Friday, and after receiving notice of furlough you have 7 days to respond, have legal representation, or file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board.
Rely on Financial Resources Available to You
If you are on forced leave from your federal government position, you are probably facing serious concerns about your financial safety. While on forced leave, you may become entitled to receive unemployment compensation. This varies based on the laws of the State that you reside in. In addition, your agency may provide resources to assist you with your financial questions about forced leave.
For questions about your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) and furlough, the federal government has provided this fact sheet. There are many options available to you in regard to your TSP. You can reduce your investments or end them entirely while on forced leave. You can also borrow against your TSP account, and there are two types of in-service withdrawals that you are authorized to make. If you are 59 ½ or older, you can make an age-based withdrawal. If not, you can request a financial hardship withdrawal, which may come with a penalty task.
When it comes to TSP, experts suggest that you take out a loan rather than making a withdrawal or ending investments. This will allow you to continue investing for the future. It will also free you of any tax penalties as long as you pay back the loan in the required amount of time. Your finances are a top priority during forced leave, and you should ensure that you weigh your options carefully and seek the appropriate guidance if necessary.
What Should I Do While On Forced Leave?
Federal government employees who have been placed on forced leave may have difficulty determining how best to spend their furlough time. There are many valuable ways to spend your time off from work by learning a new skill, taking a class, volunteering, or building your resume. If you use your time on forced leave to better yourself and your reputation, you will feel more secure in your options, whether you come back to your job after forced leave or ultimately find work elsewhere.
1. Set Up Your Budget
When you are placed on forced leave, the first task you must accomplish is setting up your budget. First, determine the amount of income that you will lose while on forced leave. Once you have that figure, consider your necessary expenses and any financial assistance that you can receive, such as unemployment, a loan, etc. To create your budget, it is helpful to create a chart of your expenses, allocate funds, and determine how much you will have left for emergency situations.
2. Learn New Skills
A great way to make your forced leave time valuable is to learn a new skill. You could take online classes or check out the courses available at your local community college. If you have been thinking about a career change, your furlough is the best time to explore it and complete the necessary training. This will be especially beneficial if your forced leave becomes a layoff.
Volunteering is a very valuable way to spend your furlough time. It will make you feel useful despite not working, and it will enable you to network with new contacts. This can help you get a new job if you are laid off or simply establish new connections for a fulfilling position that you can continue on the side after your forced leave.
4. Get Job Training
Another great option for your forced leave is to expand your job training. While your agency will not offer training while you are on furlough, you can find training seminars at local community colleges. This will increase your skill set and make you more valuable in the workforce after furlough.
5. Work on Personal Branding
Finally, the best way to spend your time on forced leave is to improve your overall personal brand. Networking, volunteering, taking classes, and receiving training will all give you something to add to your resume. In addition, if you are web-savvy, creating a website is an excellent way to put yourself out there and advertise any services that you would like to provide. Don’t know HTML? You can still make a website by using website builder software. Also be sure to improve your presence on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.