When the government of the United States of America reopens, will furloughed government workers be paid for the missed time?

  • 1
    I was debating if this was too hypothetical, but the historic nature of the last 16 shutdowns, federal employees were paid for not working, but they don't seem to have the votes yet (tea-party candidates might prevent them.)
    – user1873
    Oct 4, 2013 at 2:54
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    @user1873 the reason to pay them are all the serious reasons our elected officials care about, namely covering their own ass from their own failures.
    – Ryathal
    Oct 4, 2013 at 18:35
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    @Ryathal: The reason for paying them is keeping them. Otherwise they could simply seek other paid jobs. Oct 5, 2013 at 19:55
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    @user1873 I'm pretty sure you would feel differently about it if you were one of the people not being paid. Oct 5, 2013 at 20:16
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    Let's understand what's happening. These people have had their income stopped because a bunch of politicians decided that's what would happen. They can't pay their bills. If the shutdown continues they might be evicted, or have mortgages foreclosed, can't buy any stuff to use in all that enforced leisure time. Can't go to restaurants or do normal things. The best they can hope for is that if they don't get evicted or foreclosed they will eventually get some money and be able to pay off al their back bills. And you think that's a sweet deal? Oct 5, 2013 at 22:09

2 Answers 2


By default, no. The definition of a furlough is that your worker is not working and not being paid for it. If they were being paid, it would be a vacation instead. This is why the one-day-a-week furloughing of some workers is a cost-saving measure - it's just gone up to a one-day-a-day furlough.

That being said, there is historical precedent for Congress to retroactively pay for the missed day. From @user1873's article:

Congress has granted back-pay to furloughed federal workers after each of the past 16 shutdowns that have taken place since 1976.

This is something that has to be done on a case-by-case basis, though. There's a wide range of possible results, since a bill has to be passed to specifically address this shutdown's back pay. It could range from doing nothing (which would result in no back pay), to full back pay (as with the others), or some compromise might be worked out (such as 50% back pay, or the option to have retroactively used vacation days to receive full pay).

  • If the workers aren't paid - when can they legally quit, i.e. when are their contracts automatically ended? Oct 5, 2013 at 19:54
  • @MartinSchröder - Very good question. As is the question of what happens if back pay is granted but they'd already quit (if they can). You should ask it as a separate question, though, with a link back to this one.
    – Bobson
    Oct 7, 2013 at 13:23
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  • @DJClayworth - According to what I'm finding, it's just the House which has passed it (with Obama supporting it). It's an open question as to whether the Senate will take it up. It's likely, but I don't have much faith in the whole mess right now. Once Obama gets to sign it, I'll edit the answer to reference it.
    – Bobson
    Oct 7, 2013 at 17:31
  • Technically the Senate still has to pass it. But if the Republican-controlled House passed it (unanimously I believe) then the chances of the Democrat-controlled Senate not passing it are virtually none. Oct 7, 2013 at 17:47

They likely will be paid retroactively whether they worked or not.

The House has passed H.R.3235 To provide for the compensation of any Federal, State, or local employee furloughed due to a lapse in appropriations which began on or about October 1, 2013.

(a) IN GENERAL.—Any Federal employee or State or local employee furloughed due to a lapse in appropriations (from the Treasury of the United States) which began on or about October 1, 2013, shall be compensated at such employee’s standard rate of compensation, for the period of such lapse in appropriations, as soon as practicable after such lapse in appropriations ends.

During the mean time, furloughed employees are likely eligible for unemployment benefits. If the Senate passes and President signs the House bill, those federal employees will be paid for the time they didn't work. This was the previous case in the last 16 shutdowns. They are then supposed to repay any unemployment benefits they received. Considering the governments past record of improper payments, about 12% of federal employees will not only receive a 2+ week vacation, but an additional source of income.

Program: Unemployment Insurance, Agency:Department of Labor, Reported Improper Payments: $13.7 billion / 12%, Reported Primary Cause(s):Overpayment to claimants who continue to claim benefits after they return to work, ineligibility, and claimants who failed to meet active work search requirements

  • Being paid not to work is unusual but perhaps this habit of unscheduled paid vacation was established to avoid haemorrhaging staff in an unpredictable fashion. They'll lose some anyway as some people opt for a reliable cash flow elsewhere. Oct 12, 2013 at 5:14
  • It was not a vacation for the people I knew, they had house payments and kids in childcare and no indication if they still had a job. It was extremely stressful for them, and not all government employees are well paid, some government facilities have cafeterias, and the people who work them make about what they would working fast food.
    – kleineg
    Aug 6, 2014 at 18:25

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