Most federal employees impacted by the partial government shutdown that ended on Friday will receive their back pay by Jan. 31, according to new guidance from the Trump administration.
Agencies that are reopening should provide flexibility in asking their workers to come back to the office, with the Office of Personnel Management noting the length of the shutdown may cause “extenuating circumstances or personal challenges” that prevent employees from coming back immediately. Managers should provide “appropriate flexibility” to employees with “legitimate difficulties” in returning to work without delay, and have the option to place those workers in administrative leave.
OPM also cautioned that in the rush to get employees their back pay as quickly as possible, as is required by the law authorizing the retroactive compensation and as President Trump called for on Friday, the checks may not be completely accurate. Excepted employees who worked irregular overtime during the shutdown, for example, may not receive the appropriate compensation for that work until a future date. Payroll providers will coordinate with agencies “as soon as practicable” to rectify any errors, OPM said.
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One such provider, the Agriculture Department’s National Finance Center, which processes payroll for 130 agencies across government and itself is getting back up and running after being partially shut down for 35 days, instructed agencies to turn in time and attendance sheets by noon on Monday. NFC will process the timesheets Monday evening and deposit the pay into employees’ bank accounts by Jan. 31, or sooner for “some institutions.” The pay will show up in employees’ accounts as a single payment.
Furloughed employees who would have otherwise earned extra pay due to regularly scheduled overtime or night work will receive that compensation as if they had worked it. Conversely, those who were scheduled to be in non-pay status, for example on leave without pay or suspension, will not receive back pay. Employees scheduled for Family Medical Leave Act status during the shutdown will also not receive any compensation for that time. Generally, all employees will receive pay for the Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. holidays. Any furloughed worker who would normally have worked on those days will receive holiday pay.
Employees will only see 25 paychecks on their 2018 W-2, the tax form that details annual earnings, with the 26th now part of employees’ 2019 earnings. Payroll providers will issue further guidance about the restoration of use-or-lose leave, compensatory time and other issues after dealing with the immediate issue of sending out back pay.
During the shutdown, some workforces—such as the Transportation Security Administration, Federal Aviation Administration and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service—garnered significant attention for their high rates of call outs among employees who were asked to work without immediate pay for the duration of the lapse in appropriations. OPM warned those employees during the shutdown their agencies would place them in “absent without leave” status. In its new guidance, OPM said excepted employees who did not show up to work should not receive back pay for the days they missed.
“For such an employee, the ‘standard rate of pay’ for AWOL hours is also zero,” OPM’s acting Director Margaret Weichert wrote.
OPM instructed agencies to ensure all employees are treated as in pay status during the shutdown and therefore accrue the appropriate leave, creditable service for retirement and time toward their next within-grade step increase. Employees who saw their compensatory time off in lieu of overtime expire during the shutdown will instead receive overtime pay. Those who earned comp time due to travel that expired during the shutdown will see that leave rolled over into 2019. Employees who missed their “alternative work schedule” day off during the current pay period are not permitted to reschedule it.
For employees who made their desire to retire known before the shutdown, agencies should make the retirement effective to the date previously requested. OPM advised agencies to prioritize the processing of any retirement delayed due to the shutdown so it can begin annuity payments as soon as possible.
Employees will see all their normal deductions taken out of their retroactive paychecks. They will have extra time to change their Federal Employees Health Benefits Program plan if a qualifying life event occurred during the shutdown.
Federal agencies are expected to dole out about $9 billion in back pay, according to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office.