Unemployment Compensation for Furloughed Feds?

Some federal employees are lumping their furlough days together. Some federal employees are lumping their furlough days together. hacohob/Shutterstock.com

Some federal employees will take week-long furloughs in an attempt to collect unemployment insurance, according to a CNN report.

A union local in Philadelphia -- an affiliate of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers -- has negotiated with Navy officials to allow the bunched furloughs, rather than the one-day per week schedule outlined by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Navy employees would not qualify for unemployment in Pennsylvania if they still worked four days of the week, as recipients must earn less than $745 per seven-day period. “We will begin furloughs on July 8 at the rate of one furlough day per week for most personnel,” Hagel wrote in furlough notices that went out this week.

He did leave the door open for some flexibility, however.

“Consistent with this memo and with applicable laws and rules, commanders and managers will have the authority to develop the specifics of furlough procedures in order to minimize adverse mission effects and also limit the harm to morale and productivity,” he wrote. “Further bargaining with unions may also be required.”

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the approach was unusual, but not prohibited.

“Employees may request a specific furlough schedule,” Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde told Government Executive. “However, the department's approach has generally been one day a week, two days per pay period not to exceed a total of 88 hours.”

One employee, according to CNN, hoped to recoup about one quarter of the $4,400 he will lose due to unpaid leave through unemployment.

The Labor Department has issued several pieces of guidance on which federal employees may be eligible for unemployment and how to go about collecting it.

“While on furlough, federal employees may become eligible for unemployment benefits under the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees,” Labor wrote in one memo. “Some states may increase normal working hours in order to process the high volume of UCFE claims, if necessary.”

The department advised in another document: “In most cases, individuals on furlough status for only a couple of days during a week would not be eligible for a partial payment for that week.”  

Labor bills agencies for UCFE benefits each quarter, which could in turn negate some of the savings obtained by furloughs. The Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment.

Not all employees plan to take the lumped-furlough approach to become eligible for the out-of-work benefit, however. Tim Kauffman, a spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees -- the largest federal employee union -- said one unpaid day off per week has already been negotiated and finalized for Defense civilians.

“My understanding is that was what was agreed to in negotiations, which are already complete,” Kauffman said.

Hull-Ryde, the Defense spokeswoman, said unemployment compensation requirements differ by state and pointed to a Labor Department tool to help federal employees determine their eligibility. 

(Image via hacohob/Shutterstock.com)

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