With the shutdown at an end, one of federal agencies’ top priorities will be determining how to issue back pay to employees that missed paychecks while their jobs were unfunded.
According to Office of Personnel Management guidance issued Jan. 27, human resources and payroll departments should largely address all pay and benefits as if the shutdown never happened.
This means feds who were scheduled to work prior to the shutdown — whether they were ultimately furloughed or excepted — should receive their standard rate of pay, including overtime, leave accrual and retirement considerations.
Furloughed employees that were scheduled to perform overtime prior to the shutdown and excepted employees that had to perform overtime during the shutdown are therefore entitled to premium pay under U.S. code.
A shutdown also cancels out nearly all previously scheduled paid leave for the duration of the shutdown.
Federal employees required to work during the shutdown could have arranged for placement on paid leave status with their management, but agencies were encouraged to simply place excepted employees who needed to temporarily take time off on furlough status, so feds wouldn’t end up using their paid time off.
Feds who scheduled use of their “use-it-or-lose-it” leave during the shutdown prior to Nov. 24, 2018, can also get that leave restored for use after the original Jan. 5, 2019, deadline for that leave.
Leave without pay, however, is not canceled by a shutdown, and federal employees who were originally scheduled to be on LWOP will not receive back pay for those days.
Employees that were scheduled to take donated paid leave are ineligible for back pay, as donated leave is not considered a standard rate of pay. Instead, those employees will be treated as if they were on LWOP.
Agencies have also been granted the authority to give employees greater flexibility in getting back to work, as the length of the shutdown may cause challenges for childcare or transportation.
“OPM encourages agencies to be as flexible as possible as we get our employees back to work. Due to the length of the lapse, we anticipate that some employees may face extenuating circumstances or personal challenges that impact their ability to return to work on their next workday immediately following the end of the lapse,” acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert wrote in the memo.
“Accordingly, we encourage managers to take these individual challenges into consideration, and to the extent possible, provide appropriate flexibility to employees who are facing legitimate difficulties that may delay their return to work.”
Feds who already have alternative work schedules, of AWS, such as a planned day off late in the Jan. 20-Feb. 2 pay period, may opt to move that day to the beginning of this work week to ease the transition from shutdown to agency work.
AWD days off that were scheduled to occur during the shutdown, however, are nontransferable.
OPM also advised agencies to retroactively set the dates for feds that were previously scheduled to retire at some point during the shutdown. Agencies should endeavor to file the official retirement paperwork with OPM as soon as possible so that the retired employee can begin receiving annuity payments as soon as possible.
When feds actually begin receiving back-pay checks will depend entirely on the size of their agency, its human resources staff and the amount of paperwork the agency has to process because of the shutdown.
“Employees can find more information about paycheck details by reaching out to their agency,” a senior administration official told Federal Times.