What Federal Employees Should Know About Furloughs

What are the differences between an administrative and an emergency furlough? The author provides a detailed explanation.

I briefly talked about furloughs in my last article (What Federal Employees Need to Know About Furloughs and RIFs – April 16, 2017).

Today, I will discuss the subject in more detail, including the differences between an administrative and an emergency furlough.

Furloughs are defined by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) as the act of “placing an employee in a temporary nonduty, nonpay status because of lack of work or funds, or other nondisciplinary reasons.”

An administrative furlough happens when an agency needs to make a budgetary cut due to a decrease in funds from the government, whereas an emergency furlough happens when an agency must shut down part or all of its operations due to a lapse in funding, depending on how many operations are not excepted by the government.

An administrative furlough is a planned event where time is determined by the agency and cannot exceed 30 consecutive calendar days or 22 non-continuous work days without it becoming a Reduction in Force (RIF) and implicate other rights. Agencies must notify all furloughed employees in writing at least 30 days before the furloughs take effect, and employees have seven days to respond both orally and in writing. To the contrary, emergency furloughs can happen at a moment’s notice and remain in effect until funding is restored by Congress.

Agencies determine which employees are going to be furloughed in an administrative furlough. Factors include budget conditions, funding sources and other mission priorities (including emergency work involving protection of people or property). The only people fully exempt from administrative furloughs are presidential appointees not covered by the leave system because of their positions within agencies. In an emergency furlough, agencies must furlough any and all employees covered by the leave system, subject to limited exception.

How administrative furlough time is determined is up to each agency. Furlough time may either take whole work days or parts of a work day. For instance, an employee can be furloughed for four hours of a given work day. However, this will not affect an employee’s status as a full or part time employee. Also, in that part time scenario, a furloughed employee can be asked to work outside of his or her normal hours, but the employee would be compensated at his or her normal rate, rather than receive overtime pay. Emergency furloughs are immediate, and employees cannot work until funding is restored to their agencies. Furloughed employees maintain their pay grades throughout this period.

While on administrative or emergency furlough, employees can seek outside sources of income, as long as they follow their agencies’ guidelines for obtaining outside employment. For example, they will need the approval of their supervisors and the agency ethics advisors to assure that there is no conflict of interest posed by any outside employment.

Administrative furloughs may be appealed by employees within 30 days after the effective date of their first furlough day, or 30 days after they receive their notification, whichever is later. Appeals can involve either the agency’s negotiated grievance procedure or the Merit Systems Protection Board (MPSB), but not both. Employees scheduled to be furloughed may also have legal representation during the appeals process. If agencies are planning to furlough only certain people from a particular competitive level, they must state the basis for selecting those individuals in the notification.

There are more intricate details involved with furloughs than one article can do justice. Federal employees who want more specifics about the subject are advised to visit www.opm.gov and read its “Guidance for Administrative Furloughs.”

About the Author

Mathew B. Tully is a founding partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC. He concentrates his practice on representing federal government employees and military personnel. To schedule a meeting with one of the firm’s federal employment law attorneys call (202) 787-1900. The information in this column is not intended as legal advice.