AFGE Lawsuit Says Federal Employees Can’t Be Forced to Work During Shutdown

AFGE filed a lawsuit today against the government which claims that requiring federal employees to work during a shutdown without pay is a violation of the Constitution.

We linked to a story a couple of days ago that said that the American Federation of Government Employees would likely file a lawsuit against the federal government stating that it is a violation of the 13th amendment to require federal employees to work without pay during a shutdown. That happened today.

The AFGE filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. According to AFGE President John Gage, “Hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be required to work during a shutdown, and there’s no guarantee that Congress will keep the administration’s promise to pay those employees once the shutdown is over.”

Gage’s statement is correct, but at least one Congressman wants to ensure that federal employees get paid in the event of a shutdown. There’s no guarantee that bill will pass through Congress, however.

The lawsuit says requiring federal employees to work without pay violates language in the Constitution that prohibits the government from committing to spend money that has not been appropriated by Congress, and that it is a form of involuntary servitude which is banned under the 13th amendment.

“The Constitution requires an appropriation by Congress before federal dollars can be spent, no exceptions,” Gage said. “Without an appropriation, the agencies simply can’t spend money or incur debts by forcing employees to work.”

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.