In what has become nearly an annual event, the possibility of a partial government shutdown is looming at the end of the month. What does this mean for federal employees’ pay and benefits?
How Are Federal Employees Paid in the Event of a Government Shutdown?
Federal employees may be furloughed during a government shutdown, but thanks to a 2019 law, they are guaranteed to receive back pay for the time that they are furloughed.
The Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019 (S. 24) requires federal employees who are furloughed or required to work during a lapse in appropriations resulting from a government shutdown to be compensated for the period of the lapse. Federal employees must be compensated on the earliest date possible after the shutdown ends.
This means that federal employees who are considered non-essential will still be furloughed during a shutdown and may potentially go without paychecks while their agencies are closed, so having an emergency fund would be wise from a financial planning standpoint to be prepared in case this happens, but the good news is that they will receive full back pay once the shutdown ends.
The law also states that excepted federal employees who are required to work during a shutdown shall be entitled to use leave. They will be paid for said leave at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates.
According to guidance from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), federal employees who are furloughed during a shutdown will get paid at their “standard rate of pay” at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends.
In guidance issued by OPM during the last shutdown, the “standard rate of pay” for the furlough period was summarized as including any:
- basic pay;
- overtime and other premium pay for regularly scheduled work;
- regular premium payments (e.g., law enforcement availability pay); and
- allowances and differentials payable on a regular basis.
Employees who were on previously approved leave without pay (LWOP) or
who were absent without leave (AWOL) during the lapse in appropriations will not receive pay for those hours.
Excepted federal employees (those who must work during a shutdown), will receive their “standard rate of pay” after the shutdown ends for the actual hours that they worked, including any overtime or other premium pay, allowances, and differentials earned based on actual hours worked.
Anytime that excepted federal employees are placed in a furlough status, they will be compensated under the rules for furloughed employees.
Both furloughed and excepted employees will be paid after the lapse in
Federal employees with questions about their pay in the event of a partial government shutdown should consult with their human resources office for assistance.
What About Annual and Sick Leave Accrual?
OPM states that any leave that federal employees previously had scheduled during the period of the lapse in appropriations is canceled, so they will not be charged leave in those cases.
If a federal employee had properly scheduled “use-or-lose” annual leave that he or she was not able to use because of the lapse in appropriations, that leave must be restored. The employee’s agency will provide instructions for any action that the employee may need to take in this situation.
Both furloughed and excepted federal employees will receive credit for any annual and sick leave they would have otherwise accrued during the period of the government shutdown once Congress restores appropriations.
An excepted federal employee may request approval to use paid leave instead of being placed in a furlough status during an authorized absence from work. However, compensation for such leave is still not payable until after the lapse in appropriations. OPM further adds, “Generally, we do not expect excepted employees to request to use paid leave during a lapse, since they are entitled to retroactive pay for furlough periods without charge to leave. Use of paid leave under this special authority is subject to normal rules for the applicable leave program, including leave request and approval procedures.”
Federal employees with specific questions about their leave situations in the event of a partial government shutdown should contact their HR office for assistance.
FEHB and FEDVIP During a Shutdown
Federal employees furloughed during a shutdown will maintain their coverage under both the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB) and Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP). Any premiums that accrue during the shutdown will be taken out of the employees’ checks that are issued once the shutdown ends.
Additionally, federal employees who are furloughed will be designated to be in pay status for purposes of enrolling or changing enrollment in the FEHB Program. This represents a change from previous regulations under which federal employees who are furloughed normally cannot make enrollment changes to their FEHB options.
The Office of Personnel Management spelled out all of these health benefits changes in a rule it published in the Federal Register in 2021.
Why Does the Government “Shut Down?”
The concept of a government “shutdown” is relatively new and did not exist before 1980. Since the concept was enacted, government shutdowns have become used as political leverage when both parties spar over some issue and threaten to withhold funding for agencies, hoping the other side will cave. Obviously, this scenario leaves federal employees stuck in the middle who may end up at home furloughed and wondering when their next paycheck will arrive.
As FedSmith author Ralph Smith noted in a previous article, Benjamin Civiletti, the attorney general under President Jimmy Carter, is credited for inventing the concept of the modern shutdown. It is based on an interpretation of an 1870 law. For details, see Who Invented the Government Shutdown?.