Furloughed employees typically would return on day after shutdown ends

October 16, 2013

When the partial government shutdown ends, federal employees who have been furloughed generally would be expected to report for work on their next regular working day.

In most cases, that likely would be tomorrow, if a plan to restore federal agency funding and raise the debt ceiling is approved and signed into law today.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday afternoon that he expected the government to be fully open Thursday.

The standard notice that furloughed employees received Oct. 1 when the shutdown started says that when the funding lapse ends, “you will be expected to return to work on your next regular duty day.”

A National Park Service employee posts a sign on a barricade closing access to the Lincoln Memorial. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
A National Park Service employee posts a sign closing access to the Lincoln Memorial. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

An Office of Personnel Management handbook is less categorical, though. It says that “guidance concerning when furloughed employees should come back to work at the conclusion of the shutdown would have to be tailored to the specific situation. In the absence of such guidance, agencies should apply a rule of reason in requiring employees to return to work as soon as possible, taking into account the disruption in the lives and routines of furloughed employees that a shutdown causes.”

The shutdown deal up for voting Wednesday would provide back pay for federal workers who were furloughed during the slowdown in operations.

When the shutdown started, some 800,000 federal employees were sent home on unpaid furlough, but within a week the Defense Department called back to work about 350,000 of them. Employees “excepted” from the furlough due to the nature of their jobs have been at work, although they also generally have not been getting paid; the bill provides the funds for them to receive back pay, as they have been promised all along.

Excepted employees at the Defense Department have continued to receive pay as normal under the same law that allowed the Pentagon to call back most of those it had furloughed.

How furloughed employees will be notified when to return is something of a chicken-and-egg matter. While on furlough status, they are prohibited from any work-related activities, including checking their agency-issued mobile devices or logging into their work e-mail from home — the very means that agencies commonly use to communicate with large numbers of employees at once.

The standard furlough notice tells employees to “monitor public broadcasts and the Internet,” while the OPM guidance says that agencies also can use toll-free numbers and e-mails to home e-mail accounts. Defense Department guidance  similarly tells employees to monitor the news and check OPM’s site, www.opm.gov.

Related: Members of Congress who insisted on keeping their shutdown pay

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Joe Davidson · October 16, 2013