Federal Employees, Government Shutdown and Celebrating Christmas

Are federal employees going to have an extra paid day off at Christmas? It is unlikely unless it is due to a government shutdown.

It is now cold in many parts of the United States. There has even been some snow in the Washington, DC area. It’s December. Christmas is rapidly approaching. Some readers (including this writer) are counting how many days we have left to finish (or start?) Christmas shopping.

Christmas 2017 and the Federal Employee

Normally, we would have received a few queries from readers along these lines: “Will the president issue an executive order giving us an extra day off for Christmas this year?”

But Christmas in the federal workplace is different this year. Instead of asking about an extra day, the question on the minds of many readers is this: “Will we be furloughed just before Christmas due to the lack of agreement on the federal budget”?

President Trump signed a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown and keep the federal government running. That short term agreement expires on December 22nd.

Government leaders said at the time that the temporary extension will provide them more time to negotiate several end-of-year agenda items, including the federal budget. No one knows if there will be a longer agreement on the budget by the end of the day on December 22nd. December 22nd is a Friday. Christmas day is on Monday, December 25th.

The Government Won’t Shut Down Over Christmas, Will It?

If the federal government shuts down over Christmas, it will not be the first time.

If you were a federal employee or a federal contractor in the latter months of 1995, you probably remember what you were doing in November and December of that year. Federal workers were being sent home and President Clinton vetoed several appropriations bills.

While “nonessential” federal workers were not in the offices for part of the year, most believed they would eventually be paid just as if they had come to work–although being called a “nonessential” federal employee undoubtedly had a sting to it that many would not forget. Government workers were furloughed and non-essential services suspended from November 14–19, 1995, and again from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996—a total of 27 days.

Those employees that were sent home did get paid even though they did not come to work during the shutdown as the political dispute continued raging in Washington.

Some contractor employees also lost money and many did not get repaid after the political tussle was over and done with. When the hot air evaporated after the last press conference, the country survived, a budget was eventually passed and life went on as before.

If it does happen again, some readers will be pleased to have the time off. Some will not have to take any leave, they are confident they will get paid after the shutdown ends, and life in the federal government will go on as it did before the shutdown.

The biggest negative aspect of this is that some readers probably do not have an emergency fund and will be hesitant to fully appreciate the holiday season wondering if or when the shutdown will end and when they will get paid—or wondering if they will get paid for the shutdown time at all.

According to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “I think the American people need not worry that there’s going to be any kind of government shutdown. I sense the Democrats don’t want to do it and we don’t either.”

Will The President Issue an Executive Order Giving Federal Employees an Extra Day Off at Christmas?

Assuming there is not a shutdown, will President Trump issue an executive order granting an extra day off for federal employees?

There are a number of years when an extra day has been given to federal employees at Christmas. That is very unlikely to happen in 2017.

Christmas is on a Monday, so Christmas Eve is on Sunday. At least since 1950, there is no year in which federal employees have been given an extra day off when Christmas falls on a Monday.

In most cases, an extra day off with pay is given for the day before Christmas (Christmas Eve). There are 10 instances when an extra day has been given to federal employees for the day after Christmas when the day after Christmas falls on a Friday.

Perhaps 2017 will be an exception and an extra day will be given to federal employees on Tuesday, December 26th. Perhaps there will not be a government shutdown during the holiday season. Perhaps President Trump will conclude, if there is not a shutdown, federal employees should have an extra day off on December 26th.

That seems unlikely. Federal employees who want to be certain they will be off from work the day after Christmas should plan on taking a day of annual leave for that day. There is no precedent to provide much optimism for getting an extra day off  with pay (other than because of a furlough) in 2018.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47