The Justice Department on Monday will notify legions of federal employees that they can sue the government for not paying them on time during the partial shutdown of 2013.
If the plaintiffs prevail, shutdowns could become more costly for the government, putting pressure on Congress to avoid budget lapses or amend federal law so that agencies can pay their employees on time during partial closures.
The lawsuit seeks compensation of $7.25 per hour for work between Oct. 1 and Oct. 5 of 2013, the period for which the government had to delay paychecks because of the budget lapse.
“Many workers took months to recover financially from the impact of the government shutdown,” said Heidi Burakiewicz, an attorney with the D.C. law firm representing the plaintiffs. “They should not be financially punished for circumstances beyond their control.”
The executive branch was dealing with circumstances beyond its control as well. The Antideficiency Act requires all agencies to cease operations during a budget lapse unless they are vital to national security or funded through sources beyond appropriations.
Nonetheless, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Chief Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith ruled in August that the government violated the Fair Labor Standards Act with its failure to pay the employees on time.
The judge has not yet decided whether the employees in the lawsuit are entitled to damages. The plaintiffs plan to file for a summary judgment by late June.
Five U.S. Bureau of Prisons personnel brought the original claim in October 2013, but about 5,000 federal employees have joined the action since then. Monday’s notices are required under an order last year from Campbell-Smith.
About 1.3 million federal employees worked during the 2013 shutdown, but some are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act, including executives, high-level supervisors and other salaried personnel. Those individuals would not qualify to join the lawsuit.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article said the government would notify more than 1 million federal employees of their right to sue over late compensation. That number represented the personnel who worked during the 2013 shutdown, but it is not clear how many of those individuals are eligible to sue under the Fair Labor Standards Act.