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Employees, unions get further details on furloughs

Process would not unfold immediately on Jan. 2, and would not be the same across all agencies.

The Obama administration reached out to federal labor unions Friday to provide more detailed information about potential employee furloughs in the event the budget sequestration process unfolds, and the Office of Personnel Management posted answers to common questions about how the furlough process would work in practice. 

In a posting on its website Friday, the National Treasury Employees Union said it had participated in a call with Obama administration  officials earlier in the day in which the officials indicated they have had further discussions with agencies about the potential sequester and "the need to engage with their unions before taking any personnel actions such as furloughs."

According to NTEU, the administration officials noted that "under sequestration, agencies' day-to-day operations will not change dramatically on Jan. 2, and there will be time for agencies to continue finalizing budget plans." Also, agencies' approaches to implementing budget cuts will vary, and some will take personnel actions more quickly than others. 

OPM posted a question-and-answer document Friday with details about the furlough process. The agency had previously posted guidance for agencies Thursday on implementing furloughs.

The new document says "an agency has discretion to identify which employees will be furloughed and when to schedule furloughs based on its particular needs and mission. An agency should engage in pre-decisional consultation with the exclusive bargaining representative regarding the exercise of its discretion. To the extent required by law or applicable collective bargaining agreement, agencies must bargain with employees' exclusive representative before implementing a furlough."

As a general rule, employees must be provided at least 30 days notice of an administrative furlough scheduled to last 22 workdays or less, and at least 60 days notice of one lasting longer than that.

Employees scheduled to work on Jan. 2 should report to work as usual, OPM said. "Agencies will not be executing any immediate personnel actions, such as furloughs," that day, the agency's guidance states. 

Agencies have flexibility in how they implement furloughs. For example, OPM notes, an organization could furlough employees for one day per pay period for a specific period of time, require employees to take a certain number of furlough hours, designate specific dates as furlough days off, or let employees choose their own furlough time off.

The Office of Management and Budget has said furloughs will be a last resort in a sequester scenario.