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Employee Rights During A Government Shutdown

We are living through the most extended government shutdown in American history. Approximately 800,000 federal employees and 500,000 federal contractors have now gone without a paycheck, and there is no end in sight. Of the unpaid federal employees, more than 420,000 must continue working.

While those affected by the shutdown may feel stripped of their right to compensation for work completed, some rights still remain during a shutdown. If your rights have been violated, you can take legal action.

What rights do federal employees have during a shutdown?

  • Federal employees working without pay, as well as furloughed employees, have the right to back pay once the government reopens, following recent legislation.
  • Employees participating in federal health insurance (FEHB) will have health coverage during the shutdown. According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the enrollee share of the FEHB premium will accumulate and be withheld from pay when payroll reopens.
  • Federal employees have the right to call in sick; however, employers may require a note from a physician, even for a single day's absence.
  • Federal contractors would have the right to back pay if their employer negotiated for such a circumstance in their contract.
  • The Taft-Hartley Act made it illegal for federal employees to strike during a shutdown, but workers have the right to lawful protest while off duty.
  • The recently imposed Hatch Act guidelines prohibit federal employees from participating in partisan political activity while on duty, however, they are free to express their political opinions off duty, with these exceptions.
  • Workers receiving back pay for days unpaid in 2018 will be able to count that pay toward their 2018 taxable income.

With political polarization at an all-time high, many are now realizing that we need to revisit federal employees' rights. If you suspect your employment rights have been violated during this government shutdown, we strongly encourage you to contact an experienced employment law attorney.

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