Furloughed but forced to work for nothing

There’s an ongoing debate at work. My co-workers (deemed ‘essential’ federal employees) believe that, if we’re furloughed, we can still be required to work. They believe that we can be fired for not working even if we were not getting paid. This is assuming that, if required to work, we would not be paid.

My position is, if furloughed and still required to work, then we must be paid–at some point. I believe that nobody can be required to work for nothing. And, of course, that if one works, one must be paid.

Further, I believe that, if it is clearly stated that you will NOT be paid, ever, for working during the furlough, then you need not work, nor could you be fired for not working during the furlough period once the furlough is over. In fact, I’d think it would leave you in a stronger position since any firing could be contested for being a “reprisal.”

I mean, isn’t this one of the tenets for which the Civil War was fought?

So, legal types, what say you?

Ask your Union. They likely have strong opinions on the topic.

Are you salaried or hourly? Salaried employees could likely be required to work, even during a shutdown. Hourly would depend on your union. And yes, eventually they MUST (and will) pay you.

I’m an hourly paid employee.

Where on earth would your co-workers get the idea that they would not be paid for working during a furlough???

Look up the definition of furlough (I may be misunderstanding it, so double check me) …it means a “leave of absence, unpaid”. That implies that you are not there to be working.

If you are called back to do work…then you are no longer on furlough.

Any work that you are forced to do without compensation is tantamount to slavery. And if you are forced by your government to do work unpaid…I can only imagine the political debates that would ignite. :dubious:

My point exactly.

I’m also wondering where, if anywhere, it’s codified into federal law?

13th Amendment?

I think the point is that there may be no cash flow during a government “shutdown.” There wasn’t back in 1995, during the shutdown, but the essential workers still had to work. Of course they got back pay as soon as the proper legislation was passed and the money started to move through the system again. It was always the understanding that the workers would get paid as soon as the money was there.

Heh. Good point.

I was kind of looking for something more specific to the situation, but I like your answer.

One of my previous employers actually wanted to do this with me. I’m apparently expensive, and they wanted the advantage of my expertise without the bother of having to pay me. (In their defence, the company was severely hurting – they really didn’t want to stiff me).
Unfortunately, it turned out to be against Massachusetts law to do so. They had to pay me. I never looked up the relevant statutes, but I don’t doubt they exist – they would’ve loved to not have to pay me.

Not sure how relevant this is to your situation but my company (a tech start up in California) instituted mandatory unpaid furloughs last year when they ran out of cash.

They were very strict that you COULD NOT work on company business during the furlough even if you wanted to, as it would open them up accusations of making you work for nothing which is a pretty serious contravention of employment law in CA.

What if you had slipped them advice/consultation through back channels? Like written with crayons on cocktail napkins which are then left at a random train station locker whose key was inside the stomach of a fish that they’d have to buy at the local market by uttering a special code?

Unlike an actual slave, no one is physically forcing you to work, so I think the comparisons to slavery are a little dramatic. That said, the government would never allow a private employer to make you work for free or risk firing.

If you search for “furlough” on the OPM site it has a FAQ on furloughs, although I don’t know if it answers your specific question. I also second the recommendation to contact your union rep. They are usually more than happy to waste time discussing union issues rather than doing the work the government actually pays them for (or at least mine is).

This is the government. They are exempt from a lot of labor laws so can not be compaired to private industry.

I manage a contract at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, so I can definitely state…the answer is murky.

First of all, civil servants who are deemed “essential” will not be furloughed and will be expected to work during any government shutdown. Nobody said this, but I imagine their wages will be guaranteed with the full faith and credit of the Federal Government, whatever that means.

Civil servants deemed “non-essential” will be furloughed and will be told not to show up for work. They will be directed not to work on their jobs during any shutdown. When the government restarts they may or may not be paid for the time off. When the government shut down in 1995, non-essential civil servants were paid, but it is up to somebody, probably Congress, after the fact.

Contractors are a much more complex situation. I attended a meeting with upper management at JSC, and left much more confused than I started. However, I think it depends a lot on whether or not the contract has obligated funding before the shutdown. My understanding is that if my contract had funding my people could work and be paid during a shutdown, whether they were essential or non-essential. This answer was extremely confused and people were getting different answers at different NASA centers, let alone different agencies.

Your mileage may vary. Ask your program manager, COTR, or whoever else is in charge of contract billing, and do not expect a very clear answer.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires people to be paid a minimum wage for their work, and says that non-exempt employees must be paid for the actual hours that they work. (See FAQs from the Department of Labor)

Here’s a FAQ on federal furloughs, based on documents fom the Office of Personnel Management. It includes a link to a PDF document from the 1995 shutdown which says:

Both documents say that it’s possible payments might be delayed, depending on how your agency is funded.

My wife is a professor at UCLA. When she was furloughed last year, it was made clear that she still had to show up and teach her classes. And, of course, each hour she was in front of the class required several hours of prep and grading, which still had to be done as well. And she still had to hold office hours.

So the only part of her job she *could *cut back on was her research. But since she’s up for tenure and already working nights and weekends on her book, cutting back on the numbers of hours of research she did during the week would be professional suicide. So the furlough wound up merely being a pay cut.

Government ‘paychecks’ are often in the form of a warrant of payment, which are legally more like an I.O.U. than a regular check. In normal time, they work just like a check, and the recipient can deposit them in their bank, and the bank will accept them & credit your account. But if the government runs out of money, the bank can check, and if there’s no money in the government account, decline to accept the warrant and give it back to you. Then you hold it, and try to deposit it later, when there is money in the government account. In the meantime, you probably run short of money.

This has happened before. Several state and local governments did this during the Great Depression. Eventually the warrants were covered, but many government employees (and suppliers, too) were hurt for a while. Some sharp operators sprung up, offering to purchase warrants from people at a discount from the face value. Rather like payday loan operations today.

Another Fed checking in here. Unlike the OP (or his co-workers), I probably wouldn’t be deemed essential, so I’d be sent home for some gloriously unpaid vacation time. Interesting point: At least in Virginia, I’d probably qualify for unemployment benefits during an extended shutdown. I’d have to pay them back if Congress ended up paying me for the shutdown time, though.

Our company provides security for a Federal Agency. We were informed that a skeleton crew of security officers would be deemed essential in case of a shut-down. Part of their job would be to keep anyone from coming in to work.

This may well vary though, from one agency to another, and even within DoD etc.