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Back pay approved for furloughed federal employees once shutdown ends

President Trump signed a bill to assure back pay to furloughed federal employees on Wednesday. (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg)

When funding is restored to federal agencies shuttered by the partial government shutdown, employees who have been on unpaid furloughs will receive back pay, under legislation President Trump signed Wednesday.

The measure extends to furloughed employees the same guarantee of eventual back pay that already had applied to those who have remained on the job in unfunded agencies because of the safety- or security-related nature of their work.

Of the 800,000 federal employees in unpaid status since Dec. 22, more than half have continued to work. They have been assured of back pay when funding is restored for their agency, but there had been no such assurance for those who were furloughed. In previous shutdowns, they, too, had been paid retroactively, however.

Back pay is to be provided “at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates,” under the bill.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said the bill provides “some long-term relief to furloughed workers, but we still need to reopen the government immediately. The promise of back pay will not cover the cost of rent or groceries today. It won’t make a car payment or cover prescriptions.”

National Active and Retired Federal Employees President Ken Thomas said it “provides some sense of certainty to hard-working federal employees struggling to survive during this political nightmare through no fault of their own.”

Almost all federal employees are paid on a two-week cycle, typically receiving pay for a biweekly period about a week after it ends. Most of those in unpaid status received their first pay distribution devoid of pay late last week or early this week. Two weeks earlier they had received their salaries for the pay period before the shutdown began even though they were in unpaid status by the time of that payout. The current pay cycle ends Saturday.

Those who have applied for unemployment compensation due to being furloughed will have to repay those benefits once they receive back pay.

The bill also allows employees who are kept on the job in a partial shutdown to use leave, including vacation time, during that period, although that, too, could not be paid until funding is restored. It is unclear whether the provision could be applied to the current partial shutdown. Such policy changes typically don’t take effect until the Office of Personnel Management issues guidance. However, the OPM is one of the shuttered agencies.