How Furloughs Will Affect Pay and Benefits

By Kellie Lunney

February 28, 2013

Well, the deadline is here at last: Sequestration lands in less than two days. Despite all the rhetoric from both sides of the aisle, there are few serious efforts under way to head it off by Friday.

There’s also a dearth of specific information on possible furloughs and how they would affect federal employees’ pay and benefits. Agencies now are starting to send out general notices to employees on the likelihood of furloughs during the rest of the fiscal year. Actual furloughs in some agencies could start as early as March or April, if Congress opts not to reverse the automatic spending cuts or otherwise modify the sequester timetable. Congress also needs to keep the government open past March 27, so it’s likely they will try to incorporate some solution on the sequester into extending the continuing resolution.

But who knows?

Let’s assume the sequester stays in place and there are furloughs. Federal employees and managers should look closely at the Office of Personnel Management’s furlough guidance here as well as the agency’s supplemental information on the topic.

It’s important to remember that agencies are supposed to turn to furloughs only as a last resort, and that some agencies already have said they will not have to furlough workers to meet the spending cuts mandated by sequestration.

Here are some highlights from OPM’s guidance on how furloughs affect certain pay and benefits:

Pay Solidarity

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said she thinks lawmakers need to sacrifice their own pay if federal employees are forced to take unpaid leave as a result of sequestration. “If the federal employees are going to take a 20 percent cut and be furloughed, we should take a 20 percent cut,” Mikulski said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “If they take a hit, we should take a hit, and I look forward to moving on that legislation,” said the new chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Many federal employees live and work in Maryland, so Mikulski’s staunch defense of feds and opposition to sequestration comes as no surprise.

The Defense Department has estimated that civilian feds who are furloughed could lose up to 20 percent in pay as a result of the unpaid time off. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has said he would give up 20 percent of his pay in solidarity with furloughed employees. Political appointees and lawmakers are not subject to furlough.

By Kellie Lunney

February 28, 2013