Federal workers who check their e-mail during a shutdown will be breaking the law

September 30, 2013

(philcampbell / Flickr)

You know those vacations where you say you're not checking your e-mail, but everyone knows you're lying?

Well, when federal employees go off the grid, they mean it. In the event of a government shutdown — just 12 hours to go until the deadline — workers on furlough will be barred from accessing their work e-mail accounts, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

That means no "marking-as-read," "just peeking," or "catching up." Public servants who've been told to stay home may even be asked to hand over their mobile devices — just to make sure.

Federal employees who do check their inboxes will technically be breaking an obscure law known as the Antideficiency Act, which was passed over a hundred years ago and carries a penalty of fines or even imprisonment.

If there isn't time to notify an employee whether they'll be affected by the shutdown before it hits, the government can't use work e-mail to tell them about it:


(Office of Personnel Management)

The same rules hold for telling employees when they can come back to the office. Excuse me while I go fantasize about a fleet of federal carrier pigeons.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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