Feds Who Worked During Shutdown Could Still Receive Bonus Pay

Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB / Shutterstock.com

The government violated federal labor laws when it delayed payments to employees during last year’s shutdown, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith denied on July 31 the federal government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit originally filed by five Bureau of Prisons employees. Those workers sought damages after they were forced to work during the two-week shutdown in October 2013, but did not receive their full paychecks until federal agencies reopened.  

The judge ruled the government was in violation of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act when it delayed payments for hours worked between Oct. 1 and Oct. 5 to most of the 1.3 million employees forced to report during the shutdown. Campbell-Smith rejected the workers’ claim that even employees designated as exempt by the FLSA -- such as teachers, nurses and high-level managers -- were entitled to damages. She also said employees who earned more than the weekly minimum wage of $290 from their paycheck by working that week before the shutdown -- Sept. 29 (a Sunday) and Sept. 30 -- were not treated in violation of labor laws.

Still, the government violated the FLSA for the vast majority of federal employees who worked during the shutdown, she ruled. Mehri & Skalet, the law firm representing the 2,000 employees who have signed on to the collective-action suit, argued federal employees incurred damages because the delayed paychecks left them unable to pay bills and medical expenses. The government unsuccessfully contended during oral arguments any late fees incurred by federal workers during the shutdown were made due to “poor financial management decisions.”

The judge instead offered sympathy for those affected.

“The court notes that at least some government employees, who may be plaintiffs herein, were working at the GS-04 or GS-05 levels, and had annual salaries starting around $28,000 in 2013,” Campbell-Brown wrote in her ruling. “Such salaries leave families a narrow margin, particularly when -- as plaintiffs in this action have described -- child care expenses continue and unexpected health-related expenses arise.”

Campbell-Brown did not rule whether the plaintiffs were entitled to “liquidated damages,” or financial compensation, from the federal government. Plaintiffs are seeking compensation of $7.25 -- the federal minimum wage -- times the number of hours worked between Oct. 1 and Oct. 5, the period in which paychecks were delayed. This amounts to $290 for employees who worked 8-hour days, plus any overtime they are due.

Unlike furloughed workers, employees who reported to work during the shutdown were guaranteed retroactive pay. However, the plaintiffs in Martin et. al. v. The United States argue because the excepted workers faced hardships during the shutdown, such as an inability to pay bills on time, they should receive extra compensation.

The court decided to give the government more time to prove it is not liable to provide financial compensation to the plaintiffs. It also gave Uncle Sam until Sept. 2 to contest the plaintiffs’ claim the case should be certified as a collective action.

Mehri & Skalet previously filed a motion to send a notice to all federal employees who worked during the shutdown, explaining their eligibility to join the lawsuit. The court will rule on that motion now that it has rejected the government’s motion to dismiss.

The Justice Department can still opt to appeal the ruling, Mehri & Skalet said. Campbell-Brown said that a determination on whether the feds will receive financial compensation “will come later on summary judgment or at trial.”

Heidi Burakiewicz, an attorney with Mehri & Skalet, said the firm expects a ruling on sending a notice to all affected employees shortly after the Sept. 2 deadline, but it does not anticipate a ruling on damages “for at least several more months.” 

(Image via Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB / Shutterstock.com)

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.