By Vixit /

What You Need to Know If You Already Scheduled Leave and Your Agency Shuts Down

A primer for feds planning end-of-year vacations.

Some federal workers who booked vacations between Christmas and the end of the year could find themselves taking unpaid leave for the trouble, if Congress cannot reach a deal to fund the government within the next 10 days.

Lawmakers have until Dec. 21 to come to an agreement to fund a variety of agencies and departments that don't already have full-year appropriations or there will be a partial government shutdown. Among those still awaiting a funding bill are the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State, Interior, Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security and Justice departments.

A partial closure is looking more likely after a meeting Tuesday between President Trump and Democratic leaders that devolved into a shouting match, in which Trump said he would be “proud” to shut down the government if he did not receive a bill with $5 billion in funding for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

If an agreement cannot be reached by the Dec. 21 deadline, where does that leave federal employees when it comes to previously scheduled time off?

Workers cannot substitute paid leave for furloughs if the government is closed. This means that if an employee has already scheduled leave, either for a vacation or medical leave, those paid days off would be cancelled during a shutdown. Workers would have to accept unpaid furloughs.

Congress often approves shutdown pay retroactively for furloughed workers, meaning those who took vacation during their furloughs could eventually get paid for the days they were gone, but those days would not be counted as vacation time.

For employees deemed essential by their agency, the outlook is bleak. Their already scheduled leave would be cancelled during a shutdown and they would be required to come into work or be labeled "Absent Without Official Leave."

According to guidance from the Office of Personnel Management, there are some flexibilities encouraging managers to allow essential employees to use telework or alternative work schedules in cases where they must be absent for "brief or intermittent periods." If those programs cannot sufficiently accommodate the employee or the agency, the agency must furlough the employee for the time he or she misses.