As the government shutdown goes through the different stages in its life, and even now that it’s ended, we’ve been inundated with questions regarding how it works; what happens to insurance, whether employees can apply for unemployment, and a whole lot more!
Today, we’ve decided to compile an extensive guide to the FAQs regarding the government shutdown for future reference, and hopefully, this can help put some minds at ease!
During the shutdown, can I take sick days?
According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), all excepted employees will have the option to either take sick leave or annual leave while the shutdown occurs (without the normal penalties that come with them).
For those who have continued to work without pay, they can take approved leave just as they would normally. In this case, time will be charged in personal leave banks and payment for hours will come after the shutdown comes to an end. Alternatively, excepted employees can accept ‘default furlough status’ for whenever they take leave; no leave will be charged and payment for time will come after the fact.
The OPM suggests the second option to be better for excepted employees. Before moving on, except employees who are expected at work and don’t show will be considered ‘absent without leave’ just as normal.
Am I eligible for unemployment benefits and do I need to look for work?
Your eligibility to receive unemployment benefits actually depends on the state in which you reside; OPM recommends to check with your state’s rules since some will require individuals to be actively seeking work. In some states – including Virginia and Maryland – this requirement will be waived for federal workers since they’re already in employment.
For the most part, full-time excepted employees aren’t able to claim unemployment benefits. On the other hand, those who work either part-time or seasonally may be eligible. Last week, a new legislation was introduced for those working without pay to file for unemployment, so we recommend checking with your own state and finding the latest in this regard before filing.
Am I retired if my retirement happened during the shutdown?
In short, yes. As long as the retirement application was submitted before the shutdown, everything should have been processed as normal; even if your retirement date was during the shutdown. Whether the paperwork has been processed or not is another question entirely, but you won’t be expected to return to work.
I’m paying for transport to get to work, can I get reimbursed?
Although most agencies are lacking in funds right now, you will be able to file an SF Form 1164 reimbursement claim once the shutdown ends. Once this is given to the agency’s transit benefit representative, this should be processed properly.
Will I get paid? If so, when will I get paid?
Thankfully, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act was signed by President Trump in mid-January which means that all federal employees, whether excepted or furloughed, will be paid after the shutdown. The President has authorized back pay for all federal employees, and this can occur once the lapse in appropriation ends (and not before). For federal contractors, Senate Democrats have attempted to introduce legislation for back pay, but this has never previously cleared Congress, so we await news on this one.
In the Trump-signed legislation, checks are to be sent out as soon as possible (regardless of scheduled pay periods), but a more definite timescale is likely to come once the current lapse ends.
Will I still get my GS step increase?
Since agencies aren’t allowed to reject the previously-agreed General Schedule step increases due to funding issues, retroactive pay is likely to reflect the increase on the date it was due.
How will back pay be received?
Judging by previous shutdowns and the expectations of federal employee unions, back pay is likely to come in the form of a lump sum (though this will be confirmed after the shutdown).
Will retroactive pay be considered 2018 or 2019 income for tax purposes?
In the days and weeks ahead, OPM will issue guidance on this topic, so this is likely to come after the lapse in appropriations ends. However, if we look at the 1995/96 shutdown, government employees were asked to file back pay for the period of work it covered (even if furloughed or working without pay).
What if I had use-or-lose leave?
According to OPM, all annual leave lost at the end of 2018 should be restored after the government shutdown. However, it may be the case that only leave requested in writing before November 24 will be restored. Ultimately, the answer to this depends on how long the shutdown continues but OPM will keep updating us all.
Am I still building sick/annual leave?
For furloughed workers, 80 hours is the limit for building annual and sick leave on an unpaid status. Excepted employees will continue to build leave, but won’t be able to use it until the shutdown is over. A retroactive accrual of leave was authorized by the President and Congress in the back pay bill on January 16th.
Will there be a delay to W-2s?
According to USDA, 705,000 W-2s will be distributed in the last week of January and all NFC clients should receive a W-2 by February 2nd; you can contact the NFC reporting center if this doesn’t happen.
What about federal dental/vision insurance and federal health insurance?
Under the FEDVIP, coverage will continue during the shutdown, and the number of payments enrollees must miss before receiving bills has been extended by OPM to three.
During the shutdown, coverage under the FEHB program will continue too; enrollment generally continues for 12 months in non-pay status. While your contributions accumulate, they’re withheld until the government shutdown ends.
How does long-term care insurance and group life insurance work?
FEGLI continues for 12 months in non-pay status, and coverage under the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program will also continue regardless of the shutdown. Participants will be billed after three missed payments by long-term care partners, however.
What happens with my flexible spending account?
When a paycheck is missed, payroll deductions to FSAFEDS will stop. While you’re still enrolled, eligible health care claims cannot be reimbursed until pay status resumes.
Can I suspend TSP loan payments?
During this record-breaking shutdown, the TSP are abandoning normal protocol which means employees aren’t required to send a notice of non-pay status. As long as payments were up to date before the shutdown, defaulting will not be caused by one or two missed payments.
Is my retirement impacted?
Unless the lapse lasts for six months, this lack of pay will not affect your high-3 average pay or your retirement-creditable service. For current retirees, annuity payments should continue since a significant chunk of the OPM is funded from other sources that aren’t affected by annual spending bills.
Can I make allotments from pay?
During the shutdown, allotments won’t be possible since employees aren’t getting paid. OPM has stated that allotments for those affected by the shutdown will be reviewed before deciding on whether alternative arrangements need to be made for loan payments. According to the Coast Guard on TRICARE, nobody will be disenrolled for non-payment.