Fedweek

Washington DC, Dec 2018: Trash on the National Mall five days into last year's partial federal shutdown, after the National Park Service stated that trash collections may not occur in all areas or as often.

Although President Trump has signed off on a temporary extension of agency funding authority, a shutdown threat will likely still remain well into the holiday season on December 20th when authority runs out. That possibility has – yet again – brought shutdown-related considerations to the forefront.

When funding lapses, agencies—or parts of them—that are self-funding, such as the Postal Service, would continue operating normally; others have multi-year appropriations, trust funds and other funding sources they could tap, at least for a time. Employees who continue to work with no impact on pay are called “exempt.”

For jobs funded by appropriations, agency contingency plans take effect, making a distinction between “excepted” and “non-excepted” employees. Those in the former category are to continue working as normal although in unpaid status. Those in the latter category are to go to work the first shutdown day for “orderly shutdown activities” that typically are to last about half a day, and then are sent home on unpaid furlough.

How many would be in each category is not certain; in the shutdown of late 2018-early 2019, it was about a 50-50 split. However, a number of departments and agencies had funding in place; this time, all agencies funded by appropriations would be affected.

Although excepted employees always have been guaranteed by law to be paid later for that time since the government has incurred an obligation to them, there traditionally was no such guarantee for those furloughed. They were later paid as a matter of practice but a law enacted earlier this year guaranteed back pay to them, as well.

FEHB coverage continues for all employees, with the employee share to be paid retroactively later if an employee’s pay for a pay period would not be large enough to cover it. Premiums under FEDVIP and FLTCIP insurance similarly would accumulate but if a shutdown went on for a number of weeks, those programs would directly bill enrollees (bills to use the same policy as in FEHB are pending in Congress but have not been enacted). FEGLI insurance continues without cost to the employee.

There would be no impact on an employee’s eventual retirement benefit unless an employee was on unpaid leave for more than six months in a calendar year.

Those who had scheduled to take paid leave for days that later became shutdown furlough days do not have their leave balances reduced for those days. However, employees who had been scheduled to be on leave without pay (such as parental or medical leave) will still be in unpaid status for those days.

Furlough time that was later paid also counts for purposes of annual and sick leave accrual and within-grade waiting periods.

See also, Rules on Government Furloughs at ask.FEDweek.com