OPM clarifies leave, holiday policies during shutdown

Monday - 10/14/2013, 11:24am EDT

Federal employees who are "excepted" from furloughs have remained on the job despite the government shutdown, which is now stretching into its third week.

But what if they get sick or have a previously planned appointment or vacation as the shutdown drags on?

According to updated guidance from the Office of Personnel Management, these employees can take a break from performing their essential duties — but, in many cases, they'll have to be furloughed, even if only for a day, to do so.

OPM updated its shutdown guidance Friday to include instructions on how to handle "brief or intermittent unpaid absences" by excepted federal employees.

During the lapse in annual appropriations, federal employees are unable to take any kind of paid time off. However, if excepted employees need to take a day or two off, agencies should considering using workplace flexibilities, such as alternative work schedules or telework, to work around the absence, according to OPM's guidance.

Barring that, however, employees will have to be furloughed during their time off, which must be properly documented by the agency.

"One option would be for the agency to issue a furlough notice for the period of time when the employee will be absent, and then recall the employee when the employee is once again available to come to work and perform excepted activities," the guidance stated.

For employees who expect to have multiple absences, another option is for managers to issue a special furlough notice that generally excepts them from furloughs except for the days they require off — all of which must be documented in the notice.

Union: Managers coerce employees to work

The American Federation of Government Employees said some managers have threatened to fire or discipline excepted employees who request time off during the shutdown, according to a letter to President Barack Obama from AFGE's national president, J. David Cox.

In the Oct. 12 letter, Cox called on the President to "immediately advise agency managers to stop coercing and compelling employees to come to work without a paycheck" when they're sick or when they can't afford travel costs.

Overall, OPM has made more than a dozen changes to its shutdown guidance since congressional appropriations for fiscal 2014 lapsed two weeks ago.

Among the recent changes include an Oct. 8 update clarifying holiday pay during the shutdown. Excepted employees who don't work on a holiday, such as Columbus Day, must be furloughed for the day and aren't guarnteed pay, when Congress eventually restores funding. Employees who do work during the holiday are eligible for holiday premium pay.

OPM updated the holiday-pay guidance again on Oct. 11 to note that certain employees, such as the heads of agencies and members of the Senior Executive Service, are not eligible for holiday pay and overtime pay.

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