capitol building with closed sign

How are Federal Employees Affected by Government Shutdowns?

If the federal government shuts down, federal employees could face serious problems. Essential Government operations will continue regardless of whether there are appropriated funds or not, but that also means thousands of federal employees will either be furloughed without pay or required to work without pay. If you're a federal employee, understanding how a shutdown could impact you — and whether the impact will be different than in previous years - can help you plan for the future.

Why Do Government Shutdowns Happen?

In short, shutdowns happen when Congress fails to timely fund the government, but that's simplifying matters a lot.

The Antideficiency Act, passed into law in 1884 and amended in 1950 and 1982, prohibits the U.S. government from entering into contracts that are not "fully funded."

Congress is required to pass funding legislation that finances the government. This includes authorizing the finances that pay for government employees to do their jobs. It also includes approving the Treasury Department to pay its bills. For the most part, the U.S. operates in a deficit, so passing funding legislation usually also involves raising the debt limit for the U.S.

Here's where we come back to the Antideficiency Act. The government shuts down if Congress can't pass its annual funding legislation due to a 1980 interpretation of the Act and what constitutes a "fully funded" contract.

In recent years, government shutdowns have been a regular part of life for many federal employees as Congress works to avoid defaulting. If you're a federal employee, understanding how a shutdown could impact you - and whether the impact will be different than in previous years - can help you plan for the future.

Recent Government Shutdowns

As federal employees know, a government shutdown this year would hardly be anything new. From 2018 through 2020, the government underwent annual shutdowns. In fact, the longest shutdown in government history happened a few years ago, lasting from December 22, 2018, until January 25, 2019.

What Would a Shutdown Mean for Federal Employees?

Like other recent shutdowns, a government shutdown could mean that many federal employees are furloughed, relieving them from having to attend work until funding legislation is passed - and also relieving them of pay. During past shutdowns, many employees have suffered, having to drain their personal savings to stay afloat while furloughed.

Some Federal employees, such as military and law enforcement agency employees and other "essential" agency employees, such as TSA agents and air traffic controllers, would need to report to work without receiving any payment.

Government shutdowns also have wide-reaching effects on American citizens. In past shutdowns, processes such as loan applications have slowed drastically or even stopped due to shutdowns. Federally maintained spaces, such as national parks, have had to go unmaintained, and food safety inspections have stopped. A government shutdown this year would likely mean similar consequences.

It would be remiss to end this blog without mentioning the potential economic ramifications of a shutdown. With the U.S. still teetering on the edge of recovery thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, a shutdown could mean plunging the country into a recession, eliminating the progress that has been made thus far in the country's economic recovery since 2020.

Rights of Federal Employees

During a government shutdown, federal agencies will not be able to receive funding, which means nonessential agencies, which are agencies not involved with national defense, law enforcement, national security, or other public safety, will typically have to halt their operations. For offices that still have some funding, they will continue operating, but after they have run out of cash, they will also need to cease operations.

During a government shutdown, nonessential employees will be furloughed without pay. Essential government employees will be required to work without pay. But did you know that you have your rights as a federal employee even after a government shutdown?

The following are some of the rights that a federal employee has during a government shutdown:

● You should get your unemployment benefits from your state unemployment compensation agency

● You should still receive your social security payments

● If you are a military retiree or a veteran, you should continue receiving your pension

● If you are a disabled veteran, you will still enjoy your benefits

● Any employee who is covered by the Federal Employee’s Health Benefit Act can still see their doctor

A government shutdown does not mean that a federal employee should suffer. And career title 5 federal employees have the right to appeal a furlough of 30 days or less to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) if they believe it constitutes a prohibited personnel practice of discrimination or retaliation. Please contact the attorneys at The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC in order to protect your benefits during a government shutdown.

Contact us today at (202) 350-3881 to schedule a consultation with one of our top-rated, award-winning federal employment attorneys and to understand more about your rights as a federal employee during a government shutdown.