With the possibility of a government shutdown a week away, I continue to receive questions from federal employees about how it may affect them. As a result, I consulted my colleague and federal workforce expert, John Palguta, to come up with the answers to the questions that I hear most frequently.
What is a furlough and who is affected?
A furlough places an employee in a temporary non-duty and non-pay status. In the current situation, without funds appropriated by Congress, some federal agencies will be required to shut down and furlough their employees.
Will all federal agencies be affected by a shutdown?
No, the law provides exceptions for some (or parts of some) federal agencies and their employees for a variety of reasons, such as the need to safeguard public health and safety and to protect life and property. Additionally, an agency that has a continuing source of funding may not be affected.
Who is considered essential versus non-essential during a shutdown?
While I've most often heard the terms essential and non-essential being used to assess who may or may not be working during a shutdown, the official terms are excepted and non-excepted.
According to guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), an agency's senior leadership determines who is excepted from the furlough and required to work during a shutdown. Federal employees working on essential activities related to our national security, homeland security, law enforcement, health care, financial management and the Postal Service will most likely be required to continue working.
What should I do if I hear that the government is shutting down?
First, report to work the next business day to receive instructions from your supervisor on whether you are excepted or non-excepted. Excepted employees will continue working. If you are non-excepted, secure work papers, equipment and other materials to help implement an orderly shutdown.
If the government shuts down, what happens to my pay and benefits?
If you're furloughed as a result of a government shutdown, you will not be paid as long as the government is closed. Even some excepted employees may be working for "delayed pay" if their paycheck comes from an appropriation.
As for annual and sick leave, you will not earn any additional leave during a shutdown unless you are an excepted employee and working under a "paid" status. Health care and life insurance benefits, on the other hand, continue for up to a year so you will continue to be covered.
In addition, your contributions--and those of your agency--to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) will stop during a shutdown, and you will not be able to arrange for a loan from your TSP account during a furlough.
Since I may or may not be paid, can I take another job to pay the bills?
You will remain as a federal employee (unpaid but still an employee) during a furlough, so you can take another job so long as the job is not subject to any conflict of interest prohibitions. Here's the kicker: You may need approval from your agency's Office of General Counsel to ensure that there is no conflict of interest. You can review your agency regulations to determine if they specify what types of employment would not pose a conflict.
I would also like to hear from you. If you've been through a shutdown before, please share your advice and stories by contacting me at email@example.com.