What Happens to Pay and Benefits During a Shutdown?

Will DHS employees get paid if the agency shuts down? OPM offers guidance on what would happen to employee pay and benefits should it happen at the end of the month.

The standoff in Congress is bringing the likelihood of a shutdown at the Department of Homeland Security closer by the day.

There are about 240,000 employees in the agency, most of whom would be exempt in a shutdown, meaning they would still work. About 30,000 employees, however, would be sent home.

Which of these employees get paid? What does being an “excepted” employee mean and how is this determined?

OPM has provided answers on many pay and benefits questions such as these in its document for guidance on shutdown furloughs. Below are some of the more pressing questions and answers from the document that federal employees are likely to have.

Who are “excepted” employees?

In the context of shutdown furloughs, the term “excepted” is used to refer to employees who are funded through annual appropriations who are nonetheless excepted from the furlough because they are performing work that, by law, may continue to be performed during a lapse in appropriations. Excepted employees include employees who are performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property or performing certain other types of excepted work. Agency legal counsels, working with senior agency managers, are determining which employees are designated to be handling “excepted” and “non-excepted” functions.

Who are “exempt” employees?

Employees are “exempt” from furlough if they are not affected by a lapse in appropriations. This includes employees who are not funded by annually appropriated funds. Employees performing those functions will generally continue to be governed by the normal pay, leave, and other civil service rules.

What about employees who are neither “excepted” nor “exempt”?

Employees who are funded through annual appropriations but are not designated as excepted are barred from working during a shutdown, except to perform minimal activities as necessary to execute an orderly suspension of agency operations related to non-excepted activities. These employees will be furloughed.

How will employees be notified whether they have been designated to be handling “excepted” functions or not?

Each agency will determine the method and timing of notifying employees of whether they have been designated as an excepted employee.

Pay and Benefits

Will employees who are furloughed get paid?

Congress will determine whether furloughed employees receive pay for the furlough period.

Will excepted employees be paid for performing work during a shutdown furlough? If so, when will excepted employees receive such payments?

Agencies will incur obligations to pay for services performed by excepted employees during a lapse in appropriations, and those employees will be paid when Congress passes and the President signs a new appropriation or continuing resolution.

Will employees receive a paycheck for hours worked prior to a lapse in appropriations?

Under Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance issued in 1980 (below), employees will receive this paycheck. Although the payroll for the last pay period before the lapse will be processed potentially during a period of furlough, the minimum number of payroll staff necessary for this process will be excepted from furlough for the minimum time required to issue the checks, including checks for the last pay period before the lapse. This guidance can be found in OMB’s August 28, 1980, Bulletin No. 80-14, Shutdown of Agency Operations Upon Failure by the Congress to Enact Appropriations, paragraph 3.b.(1) (Appropriations and funds). OMB has reviewed and concurs in this answer.

When an employee’s pay is insufficient to permit all deductions to be made because a shutdown furlough occurs in the middle of a pay period and the employee receives a partial paycheck, what is the order of withholding precedence?

Agencies will follow the guidance on the order of precedence for applying deductions from the pay of its civilian employees when gross pay is insufficient to cover all authorized deductions found at http://www.chcoc.gov/transmittals/TransmittalDetails.aspx?TransmittalID=1477.

May an excepted employee be permitted to earn premium pay (e.g., overtime pay, Sunday premium pay, night pay, availability pay) during the furlough period?

Yes. Excepted employees who meet the conditions for overtime pay, Sunday premium pay, night pay, availability pay and other premium payments will be entitled to payment in accordance with applicable rules, subject to any relevant payment limitations. Premium pay may be earned but cannot be paid until Congress passes and the President signs a new appropriation or continuing resolution.

May employees take other jobs while on furlough?

While on furlough, an individual remains an employee of the Federal Government. Therefore, executive branch-wide standards of ethical conduct and rules regarding outside employment continue to apply when an individual is furloughed (specifically, the executive branch-wide standards of ethical conduct (the standards), at 5 CFR part 2635). In addition, there are specific statutes which prohibit certain outside activities, and agency-specific supplemental rules that require prior approval of, and sometimes prohibit, outside employment. Therefore, before engaging in outside employment, employees should review these regulations and then consult their agency ethics official to learn if there are any agency- specific supplemental rules governing the employee.

Will an employee continue to be covered under the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) program during a shutdown furlough if the agency is unable to make its premium payments on time?

Yes, the employee’s FEHB coverage will continue even if an agency does not make the premium payments on time. Since the employee will be in a non-pay status, the enrollee share of the FEHB premium will accumulate and be withheld from pay upon return to pay status.

Are employees entitled to unemployment compensation while on furlough?

It is possible that furloughed employees may become eligible for unemployment compensation. State unemployment compensation requirements differ. Some States require a 1-week waiting period before an individual qualifies for payments. In general, the law of the State in which an employee’s last official duty station in Federal civilian service was located will be the State law that determines eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits. (See the Department of Labor website “Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees” at http://workforcesecurity.doleta.gov/unemploy/unemcomp.asp.) Agencies or employees should submit questions to the appropriate State (or District of Columbia) office. The Department of Labor’s website provides links to individual State offices at http://www.servicelocator.org/OWSLinks.asp.

May agencies deny or delay within-grade or step increases for General Schedule and Federal Wage System employees during a shutdown furlough?

It depends on how long the shutdown furlough lasts. Within-grade and step increases for General Schedule (GS) and Federal Wage System employees are awarded on the basis of length of service and individual performance. Such increases may not be denied or delayed solely because of lack of funds. However, extended periods of nonpay status (e.g., because of a furlough for lack of funds) may affect the timing of such increases. For example, a GS employee in steps 1, 2, or 3 of the grade who is furloughed an aggregate of more than 2 workweeks during the waiting period would have his or her within-grade increase delayed by at least a full pay period. (See 5 CFR 531.406(b).)

If agency performance management policies and practices require the payment of performance awards to employees, can the payment be delayed until after the shutdown furlough?

Yes. Neither law nor regulation requires agencies to pay performance awards granted under 5 U.S.C. chapters 43 and 45 and 5 CFR 451.104(a)(3). If agency performance management policies and practices require the payment of performance awards, agencies may delay payment until after the furlough when funds are available.

Will employees get paid for a holiday that occurs during a shutdown furlough?

No. An employee (including excepted employees) who does not work on a holiday will not receive pay for a holiday that occurs during a shutdown furlough.

If there is a shutdown furlough, how does this impact a separating employee’s lump- sum payment for their unused annual leave?

In the event of a shutdown furlough, any payments incurred by the agency for an employee’s lump-sum payment will be delayed until funds are available.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. 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.