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Feds Could Recover Some Furlough Days, OPM Says

New guidance offers protection for employees who take more furlough days than necessary.

Federal employees can convert extra furlough days into additional paid vacation in the event an agency cancels or draws back required unpaid leave, according to new guidance from the Office of Personnel Management.

This situation could arise if a federal worker is given flexibility in when to take his furlough days. If a worker chooses to take all the furlough days up front -- and the need to take furloughs is later canceled or the number of necessary furlough days is reduced -- the worker can use the days he took off as annual leave, OPM said.

While OPM has previously said employees cannot use accrued leave in lieu of taking a furlough, the agency has added the new guidance in the event an employee takes more furlough days than is ultimately required.

“If an employee has proactively taken more than the required number of furlough hours under an agency’s phased furlough plan prior to the agency cancellation of the furlough,” OPM said in the guidance, “the employee may retroactively cancel excess furlough hours and substitute annual leave for those hours.”

OPM went on to say that an agency is not required to provide an employee in this situation with an “excused absence” -- paid time off without docking accrued leave -- but it may do so at its own discretion, so long as the option is provided to all similarly situated employees. The federal government’s human resources office also said agencies may need to negotiate details with federal employee unions.

Additional updates included in the new guidance confirmed that taking furloughs does not affect an employee’s full-time status and said an agency can require an employee to work during a furlough period in the case of an emergency, though the employee must be fully compensated for that time. OPM has previously barred an employee from voluntarily working without pay while furloughed.

The Defense Department has said it will cancel all alternative work schedules during the furlough period, which has caused the American Federation of Government Employees to threaten legal action. OPM said in its revised guidance the impact of furloughs on these schedules should be determined on an agency-by-agency basis.

When issuing a decision on an individual’s challenge of a furlough, all agencies must provide the employee with a form to appeal the decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board, OPM said. 

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