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Federal Employment Law
How Are Federal Employees Affected by a Government Shutdown

Working for the federal government comes with many benefits. Unfortunately, it also comes with a unique detriment: the threat of a government shutdown.

As of spring 2024, the risk of a shutdown looms large for many federal employees. For most of the American public, a government shutdown is a nuisance. For federal employees, a government shutdown means uncertainty and a vastly different day-to-day life.

The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing PLLC focuses on issues affecting federal employees. Contact our team today if you are a federal employee concerned about a potential government shutdown. 

Why Does the Federal Government Shut Down?

The U.S. government comprises the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The legislative branch, Congress, is responsible for the government budget through appropriations bills.

Government shutdowns occur when Congress fails to pass a new budget before the previous budget expires. 

In recent years, shutdowns have typically resulted from political division and have lasted for several days. The longest occurred between December 2018 and January 2019, when the government shut down for 35 days. 

What Does a Government Shutdown Mean for Federal Employees?

Not every federal agency is affected the same way during government shutdowns. Agencies receiving congressional appropriations funding may receive severely curtailed or virtually no funding.

Agencies with other sources of funding can continue regular operations.

During this time, some employees continue working, others do not, and paychecks may be slow to arrive or not arrive at all. 

What Happens to Employees During a Shutdown?

Most nonessential personnel do not work during a shutdown. By law, only excepted personnel continue working. Excepted employees include:

  • Emergency personnel,
  • Senior executives, 
  • Positions that require Senate confirmation, and
  • Positions designated as excepted by federal agencies.

Individual agencies may have a list of employees who should continue reporting to work and those who should not.

The government furloughs employees who do not continue working. A furlough temporarily releases an employee with the intention that the employee returns to work once funds are available. Furloughed employees cannot work, even by volunteering time. 

If you are furloughed, your agency should provide you with Form SF-50 or a similar form.

The form should provide details about the effective furlough date, your position and pay, and any important facts about your agency. You should also receive Form SF-8, which is needed to apply for unemployment.

Do Federal Employees Get Paid During a Government Shutdown?

Federal employees generally do not get paid during a government shutdown, with some exceptions. Furloughed employees, who are forbidden to work, receive no compensation.

Even among those employees who are required to work, some also do not receive paychecks or receive only partial payments. 

In every previous shutdown, once the shutdown ended, Congress compensated employees for their work through backpay. However, many employees struggle with not knowing when a paycheck will arrive while still being expected to attend work.

Navigating what to do when you receive partial payments can be complicated, inspiring an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) memo in January 2024. Regardless, excepted employees do not qualify for unemployment even if they do not receive regular paychecks. 

How Can Federal Employees Receive Compensation During a Shutdown?

If you are furloughed during a government shutdown, you likely qualify for unemployment payments through the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) program. If you are an excepted employee, you do not. 

Under UCFE, furloughed employees can apply for unemployment compensation through their state’s unemployment program. You can locate the appropriate office to apply online.

If you live or work in Washington, D.C., you may need to file through its Office of Unemployment Compensation.

When you apply, you will need to provide your:

  • Form SF-8,
  • Social Security Card,
  • Most recent official notice about your federal employment,
  • Form SF-50 or similar documentation of non-pay status, and
  • Earnings and leave statements or similar documentation of your employment.

File quickly to ensure there are as few gaps in your pay as possible.

Prepare in Case of a Shutdown

In the politicization of the modern era, government shutdowns have become more common. Among federal employees, a government shutdown looms large in 2024. Understandably, many want to prepare for the risk of a shutdown.

Contact the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing PLLC today to learn how we can help you prepare for a potential shutdown and avoid going without pay.

Author Photo

Aaron Wersing, Attorney at Law

Aaron Wersing is the founder of the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing. Mr. Wersing graduated from the Georgia State University College of Law with a Doctorate in Jurisprudence and was the recipient of the CALI Excellence for the Future Award. Mr. Wersing previously attended the University of Georgia, where he received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting. Mr. Wersing is an active member of his local community. Mr. Wersing acts as a volunteer attorney with Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the pro bono legal aid organization of the Houston Bar Association. He is also a member of professional legal organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association and the American Inns of Court. To reach Aaron for a consultation, please call him at (833) 833-3529.

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