The Obama administration is warning federal workers that they couldn’t work for free during any government shutdown nor could they take paid leave.

In instructions issued Tuesday evening,the Office of Personnel Management explained how even one day of a shutdown would affect each worker’s bottom line. Here is a summary:

Question: What is a furlough?

Answer: According to OPM’s official guidance, “A furlough is the placing of an employee in a temporary nonduty, nonpay status because of lack of work or funds, or other nondisciplinary reasons.”

Q: What is a “shutdown furlough” and why is one necessary?

A: A shutdown furlough occurs if federal funding runs out. It’s necessary for agencies that no longer have the money to keep working.

Q: Who’s an “essential” worker? (OPM labels those who work during a shutdown “excepted employees.”)

A. Essential workers are those who may continue by law to work. “Essential/excepted” employees include people: 1) performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, 2) performing minimal activities as necessary to execute an orderly suspension of agency operations related to non-excepted activities, or 3) performing certain other types of excepted work.

Top agency lawyers and managers are determining who’s essential and non-essential. Other workers may be excepted from the shutdown furlough if their agency or program is covered by appropriations that would not be affected by an impasse (such as the Federal Highway Administration, which is funded by the federal Highway Trust Fund, and the Veterans Health Administration, which is on a two-year budget cycle).

Q: How would employees find out whether they are designated to handle excepted or non-excepted functions?

A: Each agency would communicate this to its employees.

Q: Are all workers who qualify as “emergency employees” for the purpose of weather emergencies considered essential during a shutdown?

A: Not necessarily. Each agency must determine which employees will be excepted.

Q: Could employees volunteer to work without pay during a shutdown?

A: No. Unless otherwise authorized by law, an agency may not accept the voluntary services of an employee. (The Anti-Deficiency Act prohibits voluntary work.)

Q: Could workers take another job while furloughed?

A: Even if they’re furloughed, they are still federal employees, and executive branch ethics rules regarding outside employment still apply. Employees should review those regulations before applying elsewhere.

Q: Would employees be paid if they worked during a shutdown? If so, when?

A: Agencies would sort out who gets paid for working during a shutdown and those employees would be paid after Congress passes and the president signs a new appropriation or a continuing resolution.

Q: Would furloughed/non-essential employees be paid for not working during a shutdown?

A: Congress would determine whether non-essential workers receive pay for a furlough period.

Q: Could non-essential workers take previously-approved paid leave during a shutdown?

A. No. All paid leave during a shutdown must be canceled, because the requirement to furlough supersedes leave rights. Paid leave creates a debt to the government that isn’t authorized by law.

Q: Could essential personnel take previously approved leave or be granted new requests for paid leave during a shutdown?

A. No. Essential personnel either must be doing their job or be furloughed during any absence from work during a shutdown. An excepted employee who didn’t report to work after being ordered to do so would be considered an absence without leave and would face consequences.

Q: Would an employee continue to be covered under the Federal Employee Health Benefits program during a shutdown furlough if the agency were unable to pay premiums on time?

A. Yes, the employee’s FEHB coverage would continue even if an agency didn’t make the premium payments on time.

Q: What effect would a furlough have on other benefits that are paid through payroll deductions?

A. It varies. Go to for more information.

Q: Are workers entitled to unemployment compensation while on furlough?

A. It is possible that furloughed employees could become eligible for unemployment compensation. But state unemployment compensation requirements differ. Some require a one-week waiting period before you apply. You should contact your state government directly and visit the Labor Department’s “Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees” information page.

To read a full summary of the guidance, go to