Agencies to send second furlough notices if government shutdown hits 30-day mark

With no clear end in sight, impacted agencies have a new deadline to contend with: Jan. 20, the 30th day of the partial government shutdown.

If the government shutdown goes beyond 30 days — as it likely will with no immediate plan to provide short or long-term funding for fiscal 2019 — agencies need to send a second furlough notice to non-excepted employees, the Office of Personnel Management said Friday.

“After the first 30 days in a furlough status, agencies are required to deliver a second furlough notice to currently furloughed employees,” an OPM spokeswoman wrote in an email to Federal News Network. “When a shutdown furlough goes beyond 30 days, agencies should treat it as a second shutdown furlough and issue another adverse action or furlough notice.”

The notices that furloughed employees originally received on the first day of the partial government shutdown technically expire Jan. 21. Agencies should provide a new written notice to each furloughed employee, either by email or U.S. mail, OPM said.

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Second notices would expire Feb. 19.

Most furloughed employees aren’t allowed to check their work inboxes during a government shutdown, unless their agencies have given them special permission to do. In this case, agencies can send second shutdown furlough notices to an employee’s personal email address, if available.

Otherwise, agencies may send new furlough notices to an employee’s home address through the mail. Agencies should work with their general counsels to determine how best to distribute these new notices.

Furloughed employees generally won’t need to take action; the new furlough notices are simply a recognition that the lapse in appropriations has continued for 30 days and that, unfortunately, employees are still furloughed.

Employees who receive new notices generally won’t be asked to conduct orderly shutdown activities again, unless there’s a new, unforeseen event that would require it, OPM said. Their agencies won’t call furloughed employees back in to close out work that was in progress or update email out-of-office messages, for example, because that work was already completed in the first day or so after the  government shutdown began.

Of course, many agencies have started recalling certain employees back to resume their work on processing tax refunds and food stamps, handling safety inspections and other activities. Employees who have been recalled wouldn’t receive these second notices; only those who are still furloughed.

As Federal News Network previously reported, agencies will not conduct targeted layoffs, otherwise known as reductions-in-force (RIFs), if the government shutdown hits the 30-day mark.

Federal statute typically instructs agencies to RIF targeted groups of employees who have been placed on furlough status for 30 days or more, but these regulations do not apply during a government shutdown, both OPM and the Office of Management and Budget have stressed.

Still, these regulations have worried some furloughed employees during this partial shutdown, prompting them to ask their employee unions and media outlets about the 30-day deadline.

There are two kinds of furloughs. “Administrative furloughs” are planned events by an agency “designed to absorb reductions necessitated by downsizing, reduced funding, lack of work or any budget situation other than a lapse in appropriations,” according to OPM guidance.

“Shutdown furloughs,” also called “emergency furloughs,” occur during lapses in appropriations and are out of an agency’s control.

Yet even with the concern over RIFs out of the way, the prospects for a 30-day government shutdown seems inevitable.

The House had voted multiple times on several versions of a continuing resolution to temporarily fund the rest of government. House lawmakers also passed still-outstanding appropriations bills, both on an individual basis and as a collective omnibus package.

The Senate hasn’t voted on any version of a CR or any appropriations bill since the government shutdown began back on Dec. 22.

Impacted federal employees, meanwhile, will also face the prospect of missing a second paycheck in 2019. Some 800,000 employees missed their first paycheck on or near Jan. 11.

The second pay period for most civilian employees ends Saturday, Jan. 19.

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