Will I Get Paid in the Event of a Shutdown?

The possibility of a government shutdown has been put on the table. What does this mean for your paycheck?

Washington is once again facing the specter of a partial government shutdown at the end of September. At issue this time is funding over the border wall and raising the debt ceiling.

Border Wall

President Trump recently floated the possibility of shutting the government down over funding the southern border wall, although he later said he hoped it would not be necessary.

“One way or the other Mexico is going to pay for the wall,” said Trump.

Debt Ceiling

The debt ceiling is also weighing on Congress as the government is quickly losing the ability to borrow enough money to facilitate its voracious appetite for spending. The Treasury Department has been taking “extraordinary measures” since the spring to avoid running up against the debt ceiling, and the Congressional Budget Office warned that the government will lose its ability to pay all of its bills sometime in October if the debt ceiling is not raised. An agreement must be reached in Congress in order to raise it.

Besides adding to the potential for a shutdown, the debt ceiling also impacts federal employees since the government suspends reinvestment of securities in the G Fund and the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF).

The government is currently funded through the end of the 2017 fiscal year (September 30). The last time talk of a shutdown arose, an agreement was reached at that time to fund the government through the current fiscal year. If a spending deal is not reached after Congress returns from recess, non-essential government services would cease, resulting in furloughs for many federal employees.

This leads many federal employees to ask a logical question – what happens to my pay if there is a partial shutdown?

The Office of Personnel Management has provided guidance to address this and other pay/benefits related questions. Some readers might observe that the memo is dated 2015, however, that is the most current shutdown furlough guidance from OPM as that is when it was last updated.

The information below is from OPM’s shutdown furlough guidance memo.

Will I Get Paid?

It is up to Congress to provide pay to furloughed employees. Past track record, however, suggests that affected federal employees will ultimately get paid.

In the last partial shutdown, furloughed employees were eventually paid. There was a lawsuit filed, however, over delaying pay. Federal employees involved in the class action suit were ultimately awarded back pay.

Who are “excepted” employees?

A. 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, determine which employees are designated to be handling “excepted” and “non-excepted” functions. See https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay- leave/furlough-guidance#url=Shutdown-Furlough for copies of OMB and DOJ issuances, which provide guidance on the application of these criteria.

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

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

(Note: Presidential appointees who are not covered by the leave system in 5 U.S.C. chapter 63 are not subject to furlough, but are also barred from receiving pay during a lapse in appropriations. These Presidential appointees will be paid after 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?

A. 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?

A. 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 https://www.chcoc.gov/content/ppm-2008-01-order-precedence-when- gross-pay-not-sufficient-permit-all-deductions.

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?

A. 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.

Are agencies required to pay performance awards to Senior Executive Service (SES) career appointees during a shutdown furlough?

A. No. The applicable law (5 U.S.C. 5384) and regulation (5 CFR 534.405) do not specify when an SES performance award must be paid to a career appointee, nor do they provide a basis to pay awards when no appropriated funds are available for that purpose. Therefore, if a shutdown furlough intervenes, an agency may defer payment of SES performance awards until after the furlough, when funds are available.

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

A. 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).)

Will an employee “exempt” from furlough be paid for a holiday that occurs during a shutdown?

A. Employees are “exempt” from furlough if they are not affected by a lapse in appropriations. As such, an “exempt” employee will be paid for a holiday according to the normal rules governing holidays.

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

A. Furloughed employees will not receive pay for a holiday that occurs during a shutdown furlough unless authorized by subsequent legislation.

Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs September 2015

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.