Back to work: Impact of shutdown on health insurance and workers’ comp.

Annual funding for the government expired on September 30, 2013. The lack of funding led to a shutdown, putting many government activities on hold. During the shutdown a number of civilian federal employees were placed on furlough, or were temporarily off duty without pay. Not every federal employee fell within this category. Some were excepted and others exempted.

Excepted employees were those who perform work that is necessary even during a shutdown. Positions involving health, like medical professionals, and safety, like military personnel, may qualify. Exempt employees are those who are not affected by the lapse in funds which led to the shutdown. Generally these employees do not receive funding on an annual basis. As a result, they may not be impacted by the shutdown. Postal Service workers are one example of exempted employees. Remaining employees are likely furloughed.

Federal employees, regardless of their status, benefit from a basic understanding of how the shutdown impacts their insurance coverage, pay and eligibility for workers' compensation.

Health insurance coverage for federal employees

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released a document providing guidance for federal employees who were furloughed during the shutdown. The document, Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs, addresses a wide variety of issues around payment and benefits of federal employees during a shutdown.

In most cases, health insurance coverage continues during a shutdown. Coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefits program continues even if the employee is unable to make premium payments while on off duty status. The payments will accumulate and are placed on hold until the employee returns to pay status.

However, employees that attempted to change their coverage based on a qualifying life event prior to the shutdown should be aware that the change will not likely occur until after the employee returns to work. Essentially, the OPM recommends that an employee presume the change was not processed prior to the shutdown unless the employee received an ID card reflecting the change.

Impact of shutdown on workers' comp

The OPM states that The Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs maintains an employee's continuation of pay (COP) status during a shutdown.

Unfortunately, workers who are injured while furloughed may not qualify for workers' comp benefits. This is because furloughed workers are on off duty status. Workers' comp benefits apply only when a worker is injured while performing a task within their job. However, workers that are injured while on exempt or excepted status during a shutdown likely qualify.

Potential back pay

Exempted employees are generally paid during the shutdown while employees that were working under excepted status will receive payment after a continuing resolution or new appropriation is passed by Congress and signed by the President. Congress will also determine whether or not furloughed employees will receive pay for the period of time they were off duty.

The Washington Post recently addressed this issue, reporting that Congress must first pass the retroactive pay provision before back pay will be provided to furloughed employees.

Assistance available to help better ensure you receive the benefits you are entitled to

Ensuring that proper payment is received after a shutdown can be difficult. If you are a federal employee who was injured on the job either before the shutdown or while on exempt or excepted status during the shutdown, contact an experienced federal workers' compensation benefits attorney. This legal professional can review your case and help better ensure you receive the benefits you are entitled to.