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The Longer-Term Effort to Compensate Feds for Shutdown-Related Damages

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The federal government may have provided back pay to the more than 800,000 federal workers who either were furloughed or forced to work without pay during the 35-day partial government shutdown, but another effort to compensate employees impacted by the lapse in appropriations is ongoing, and could take years.

A dozen federal employees and labor groups have filed separate lawsuits against the federal government alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires employers to pay employees promptly for the work that they perform. Among the groups aiding with the various lawsuits are the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Similar cases were filed following the 2013 government shutdown, which culminated in a class action lawsuit where, in 2017, a judge awarded financial damages to those who were forced to work during the lapse in appropriations. Employees were set to be awarded the federal minimum wage—$7.25 per hour—times the number of hours they worked between Oct. 1 and Oct. 5, 2013, the period in which paychecks were delayed.

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But as of January 2018, tens of thousands of federal workers were still awaiting their payouts.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department filed a motion to consolidate the 13 new lawsuits related to the latest shutdown, noting that all are class action suits and allege the same Fair Labor Standards Act violations.

“Together, the cases seek certification of a collective action on behalf of all ‘excepted’ federal employees who worked during the lapse in appropriations and were paid for that work after appropriations were restored,” government attorneys wrote.

On the other side, plaintiffs in the case have encouraged employees who went to work without getting paid to sign onto the lawsuits to ensure they are eligible for any payouts if they are granted. AFGE and law firm Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman and Fitch created a website where employees who worked at unfunded agencies during the shutdown can sign up to join the case.

If a judge ultimately rules in a similar way to the previous shutdown lawsuit, then most excepted federal employees could receive compensation for work they did between Dec. 22 and Jan. 25, a period that marks two full pay periods whose checks were delayed because of the lapse in appropriations. Assuming a 40-hour work week, that could amount to roughly $580 for many feds.

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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