As the government shutdown approaches its third week, federal employees stand to lose their ability to accrue time off while on furlough status.
Guidance from the Office of Personnel Management and the Defense Department dictates that federal employees will not accrue annual or sick leave in the pay period in which they cross the threshold of 80 hours in non-pay status in a given year. Many Defense civilians have already reached that limit due to the six sequestration-related furlough days over the summer and the four shutdown furlough days taken before Secretary Chuck Hagel called them back to work.
Most of the rest of the furloughed federal workforce would reach the 80-hour threshold next week, should Congress fail to strike a deal to reopen government. Some non-Defense agencies also took to furloughing workers for several days due to sequestration, meaning some employees who were furloughed both over the summer and during the shutdown also have already reached 80 hours of non-pay status. Leave accrual would remain suspended for each 10-workday period in which employees remain furloughed.
While OPM told The Washington Post no decision has been made about restoring potentially lost annual and sick leave, the Pentagon’s memorandum says, “If Congress restores pay to furloughed employees, any lost leave will also be restored.”
The House has passed a bill to restore retroactive pay to furloughed federal employees upon the government’s reopening, but the legislation is stuck in the Senate.
Federal employees earn between four and eight hours of leave per pay period, depending on their years of service.
Excepted employees who are forced to work during the shutdown are prohibited from taking either sick or annual leave. If excepted or exempted workers cannot attend work while the shutdown is in place, they must enter furlough status.
Employees reporting for duty during the shutdown also are prohibited from taking paid time off under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. They can, however, take the 12 weeks of unpaid leave to which FMLA entitles them, according to Mathew Tully, the founding partner at the Tully Rinckey law firm. Tully suggests, however, that excepted workers instead opt into furlough status, as it would not impact their FMLA time and would open them up to the possibility of receiving back pay.