What to Do While On Forced Leave From the Federal Government

By on August 11, 2013 in Current Events with 28 Comments

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.

3. Volunteer

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.

© 2016 Jason Kay. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Jason Kay.

About the Author

Jason Kay is a professional resume writer and regular contributor to KSADoctor.com, a professional federal resume service and repository of sample KSA statements.

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  1. Steve Neal says:

    Because we civil servants care for our nation and its people, and can’t STRIKE even though many of us belong to employee unions, there should be mandatory protection or insulation from arbitrary government budget reductions directly affecting OUR employment hours and earnings. We are not supposed to be the victims every time there’s a funding shortage.

    I know exactly how I’m going to spend my next furlough day… Right outside my Congressman’s office, explaining to all who care to listen, how these elected public servants can’t get over their partisan politics long enough to snatch us out of the economic toilet we are all spinning down into. Hope to see a few of you there as well…

  2. John says:

    During you furlough find a part-time “barter” gig where you can exchange services for no taxable income. The go out and do some research and file a “pro-se” MSPB claim via email and go after these moroonsss

  3. HR Manager (Retired) says:

    Good tips but they are too late as furloughs have already started and in some cases are about to end. As with anything else, those furloughed should have developed a “survival plan” once the possibility of furloughs was announced.

    • Samueul says:

      Finances are finances no matter the job etc. Everyone should strive to have 3-6 months liquid emergency funds on hand and these furloughs wouldn’t impact households so badly.. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with the furloughs, but at least you could cover your expenses and weather the storm.

  4. A.G. Surpher says:

    I think we should PICKET Congress!!! Oh… wait… I forgot… We’re not allowed to do that. Just another reason the hacks in Congress feel so comfortable bullying us.

    • HR Manager (Retired) says:

      Forget the picket idea – the best way to make sure your congressional reps know how you feel is to attend their town hall meetings and tell them face to face. You and other employees will be picked on unless you face those picking on you face to face. At their town hall meeting our reps are forced to listen to us – whether they like it or not – and, more important know that if we took the time to come to their meeting we are most likely to vote.

    • wombat1951 says:

      Wrong target. Sequester was Obama’s idea. Want to picket him? You’ll have to go where the 1%ers play, Martha’s Vinyard. Good luck!

  5. pungokayak says:

    Is there any evidence that presense on any of the social networks is a benefit to somebody who wants to stay in Federal Service?

  6. lazycs says:

    The only difference from being on “forced” leave is your not being paid, Other than that its the same stress level and accountability the days your off VS days that you “work”

    • gmanqa says:

      Why don’t you check yourself in someplace so you can get yourself checked out? I detect the onset of not-so-early dementia creeping up on you.

      • lazycs says:

        don’t like the comparisons then how about going and working 40 hours a week for a change

        • TheRealOldFed says:

          How would you know? You haven’t worked 1 day since you retired from the military. All you do is sit there all day, posting under fake names like Onedonewong, lazycs, etc. You’re just bitter because you couldn’t even get hired on as a custodian or clerk. You didn’t pay a penny for your military retirement or benefits, either. And I heard you were such a lousy soldier, they booted you out as soon as you were retirement eligible. You’re just jealous because you’re not good enough to ever be a Federal employee.

          • lazycs says:

            I’ve explained earlier that I went back got my GED and then was immediately selected for a SES gig

          • Pat Fucile says:

            You don’t go to school for a GED. A GED is awarded to people who pass a test. GED’s are for people too stupid or too lazy to graduate from high school. No person with a GED would be selected for an SES position. Get over yourself DM.

        • Eva B says:

          And just how many hours do you work? By your posting name, I’m assuming you’re lazy and don’t work the 40 hours you complain about.