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What happens with worker disputes if government shuts down?

It's that time of year again. The prospect of another government shutdown looms as soon as this weekend unless Congress can agree to temporarily extend current spending authority.

The chances of that happening are said by some observers to be somewhat less likely now that the president has signaled that he is willing to drop his demand that the measure include funds for the Mexico border wall he has promised. However, negotiations continue on Capitol Hill. Without resolution, hundreds of thousands of federal workers face temporary layoffs.

We know from previous experience that shutdowns negatively affect the country and the federal workforce in general, but a subset of workers stands face a higher level of frustration than others do. That's because those challenging criminal or administrative disciplinary moves could see action halted.

This is already a problem in connection with cases before the Merit System Protection Board. Readers may be aware that the three-member panel currently has just one member. It takes two members to establish a quorum that can deliver a possible majority vote on issues it deals with. According to an FAQ document issued earlier this year, the lack of a quorum means board decisions are suspended.

Administrative judges continue to hear cases and make rulings, but their decisions can't be submitted for MSPB review. An appeal to an appropriate court is possible, but one due process step is lost.

A check of the official website for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which responds to disputes over alleged discrimination and retaliation, finds that a shutdown will suspend some of its activities. Claims will be accepted, but not investigated. Scheduled mediation will be put on hold. Federal worker appeals won't be decided.

We are watching closely to see what happens in the next several days.

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