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, focusing on telecom, broadband and digital politics. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
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