Federal agencies are sending out new furlough notices to federal employees who have been off work and unpaid due to the partial government shutdown—a formality but also a reminder to those employees, as if they needed one, of how long it has been.
The notices are required because the furlough has now exceeded the 30-day effective period of the first notices, which were sent out on and just after December 22, when funding lapsed for nine Cabinet departments and many other agencies, putting some 800,000 employees in non-pay status.
Of that number, about 420,000 initially were kept on the job, although without pay, while the rest were ordered to stay home. The number working has since increased with the callbacks of employees in a number of agencies—most numerously, about 36,000 at the IRS—to return to work, although still unpaid. Meanwhile, smaller numbers of employees in agencies with lapsed appropriations who had continued to work and to be paid as their agencies used funds in various special accounts have now been furloughed.
“When a shutdown furlough goes beyond 30 days, agencies must treat it as a second shutdown furlough and issue another furlough notice, as a continuation of the first furlough,” OPM said in a new fact sheet. “A written notice to furlough must be provided to each employee as soon as possible after the beginning of the second shutdown furlough.”
“Delivery of the decision notice may be accomplished via the employee’s work email, but only to the extent that employees have been notified to periodically log into or view their work email remotely for purposes of receiving furlough updates. Otherwise, to the extent possible, agencies should consider delivery of the decision notice to an employee’s personal email, if available,” it says. “If an agency does not receive a requested acknowledgement of receipt of an email notification, or if the agency does not have the employee’s personal email address, an alternative an agency could consider is to deliver a paper copy of the decision notification to the employee at his or her home address by postal mail.”
Although there have been reports that agencies could not mail the notices because they are not authorized to spend money for the required staff time or even for the needed postage, the OPM said that “obligations for mailing or for employee salaries to conduct the notifications are permitted as an excepted activity under the orderly shutdown justification.”
Those receiving a second furlough notice are not to return to work to conduct “orderly shutdown activities” for a second time, it says, because the second furlough is considered a continuation of the first.
“If a furloughed employee becomes aware of a new contingency that has arisen because of the length of the lapse, the employee should contact his or her supervisor or another excepted colleague for guidance on how to proceed,” it adds.