Now that President Trump has signed a short-term deal to end the partial government shutdown, 800,000 federal employees will be headed back to work as usual, with pay. As you know, some workers deemed essential have been working without pay, but all of the affected workers have gone without paychecks for a month. On the top of everyone’s mind is when the back pay will be coming.
Back paychecks are coming ‘as soon as possible’
It’s clear that all federal employees affected by the partial shutdown will receive back pay, but the exact timing of the payments is still in question. President Trump tweeted that it will arrive “in the coming days.”
By law, under the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act which was signed into law on Jan. 16, the federal workforce is to receive back pay “as soon as possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates.” In other words, the back pay won’t have to wait on a regularly scheduled payroll process.
On Friday, the Office of Management and Budget told agencies to make sure they have the staff needed to support the payroll processes and to answer workers’ questions about benefits when they return.
Notes on benefits
The Federal Employees Health Benefits program was expected to continue during the furlough despite the employer having failed to make premium payments. If your health insurance was affected by the shutdown, you should immediately contact your agency’s personnel department.
If you received unemployment insurance during the shutdown, you will likely have to pay it back when you receive your back pay. In most states, you will be given a chance to repay the benefits voluntarily rather than being subjected to wage garnishment. You should check with the unemployment insurance
Response to suspected sick-outs
During the shutdown, as many as 10 percent of Transportation Security Administration screeners and some other federal workers also declined to work when asked to during the shutdown.
The possible disciplinary impact on these workers is unclear. The worst-case scenario is that the workers could be deemed to have participated in an illegal strike, which could result in criminal prosecution, the loss of your job, a fine and even being barred from future employment with the federal government.
That said, some federal agencies affected were quite willing to work with employees who could not attend due to financial difficulties caused by the shutdown itself. If you received permission to stay home, you should not face any discipline.
If you are accused of “sicking out” or illegally striking during the shutdown, you should immediately contact an experienced federal employment law attorney to protect your rights.