Shutdown Will Cancel Some Federal Employees’ Planned Vacations

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By on December 27, 2018 in Pay & Benefits with 0 Comments

Man sitting at a desk with his chin resting on his hands looking sadly at paperwork on the desk with Christmas gifts next to him and a Christmas tree in the background

Some federal employees who had planned to take leave around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays have found themselves heading back to work due to those vacation plans cancelled by the partial government shutdown.

According to shutdown furlough guidance from the Office of Personnel Management, “Paid time off creates a debt to the government that is not authorized” and thereby results in having the leave time cancelled.

Some federal employees said on Twitter that their vacation time was cut short for this very reason.

OPM’s guidance reads:

May an employee not excepted from the furlough take previously approved paid time off (e.g., annual, sick, court, military leave, or leave for bone marrow/organ donor leave, or compensatory time off, including religious compensatory time off) during a shutdown furlough?

A. No. All paid time off during a shutdown furlough period must be canceled because the requirement to furlough supersedes leave and other paid time off rights. The Antideficiency Act (31 U.S.C. 1341 et seq.) does not allow authorization of any expenditure or obligation before an appropriation is made, unless authorized by law. Paid time off creates a debt to the Government that is not authorized by the Act. Therefore, agencies are instructed that during a shutdown furlough, all paid time off must be canceled.

The Office of Management and Budget has confirmed this rule in recent guidance it issued as well where it states:

Many employees are scheduled to take use-or-lose annual leave in late December and early January (before the end of the leave year on January 5, 2019, for those on the standard biweekly payroll cycle). As noted above, all leave is cancelled for lapse-affected employees during a lapse in appropriations. In general, if the cancellation of annual leave due to a lapse causes an employee’s annual leave balance to exceed the applicable annual carry-over limit at the end of the leave year, such cancelled leave may be restored to the employee’s credit following agency procedures, since the lapse is considered an exigency of the public business. However, leave that had previously been restored may not be restored even if scheduled use of the previously restored leave is cancelled due to the lapse.

It is unknown at this point how long the partial government shutdown will last.

Excepted (i.e. “essential” or “exempt”) federal workers who are not subject to furlough will get paid after the shutdown ends for work performed while it took place. Non-excepted employees who must be furloughed are likely to get paid after it is over, assuming Congress passes legislation to authorize back pay as it frequently has in the past. This does not mean that the cancelled vacation plans and confusion in the meantime will not be disruptive.

One potential bright spot is that OMB has said that paychecks for the most recent pay period (December 9-22 ) will go out as scheduled and will be arriving in the December 28 to January 3 time range.

However, if the shutdown continues much beyond the new year, it will impact the next pay period’s paychecks which would be January 11, according to OMB director Mick Mulvaney. He also said that it is probable that the shutdown will last into the new year.

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

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