According to this answer

When the government is funded again the things they would have paid for anyways would still be paid (i.e. salaries).

In short this means all US government workers are on paid leave until the US funding is secured. There is some question about when they will get that pay, but it does seem like paid leave over the holidays.

Why are the headlines not saying "Paid vacation celebrates not funding the wall"?

How does this shut down at all help or hurt the President's position?

Seriously?! He doesn't get what he wants, so he sends federal workers home on paid leave?

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    Closely related: My answer to Will government workers furloughed during the shutdown be paid later?
    – Bobson
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 18:22
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    People who will not get paid during the shutdown period and not be able to pay bills and other expenses which cause them to incur various penalties will not consider themselves on paid leave. While it is expected that they will get paid for the missed pay period it requires an act of congress to approve and is not guaranteed.
    – Joe W
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 18:37
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    This reveals a lot about your upbringing. For those of us who are used to having a 'cushion' of savings or parents with savings to fall back on, a delayed payment isn't the end of the world. But a lot of people work paycheck-to-paycheck, and unfortunately, if you don't have that cash in a timely fashion, you can suddenly find yourself car-less, homeless, etc.
    – Carduus
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 20:18
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    In my early life there was a lot of time without food and/or money. When there was no work, there was less money. I never sat at home wondering if my employer was going to "pay me for not working.", I did often wonder if my employer was going to make the paycheck, and survived multiple time when the next paycheck was delayed, bounced, or was never made. Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 10:19

2 Answers 2


Officially, a furlough is not a vacation - at best, it's a stressful stay-cation with an unknown end date.

Per the Office of Personnel Management's official guidance:

2. Will employees who are furloughed get paid?

A. Congress will determine whether furloughed employees receive pay for the furlough period.

There is no guarantee that employees will get that pay back, and they are certainly not being paid during the shutdown (which presents cash flow issues for them). That said, every time there has been a shutdown, Congress has ended up authorizing back pay, so it's likely to be true this time too.

So, in some respects, it's similar to a vacation, but there are some important differences:

  • You can't leave town or make future daytime plans, because a deal could be reached at any time, and you would need to report to work the next day. (It's unlikely that a deal will be reached and a budget passed while Congress is not in session for the holidays, but if Trump or the Democrats fully gave in, it's likely an emergency session to pass it would be called.)
  • You aren't getting your regular paycheck, and your last paycheck will only cover the days that weren't part of the shutdown - this could make paying the mortgage, credit card bills, or even for groceries problematic for employees who are in precarious financial situations. The OPM even has sample letters to send to creditors about making reduced payments.
  • Following from both of those is the uncertainty. You'll probably be paid, but you can't be sure until it shows up (or at least until Congress passes a law on the subject). That would put a damper on any enjoyment of the time off.
  • There's no one doing your work, but deadlines don't (generally) move. Unlike a vacation, where cowokers can pick up your slack, things just aren't being done. So when you go back, you're going to have to work extra hard to catch up.

All that said, issuing back pay for time spent not working does cost the government significant amounts of money. So working out a resolution involving it is generally a part of whatever budget negotiations are going on. It also acts as increasing pressure on both sides to come to some kind of compromise.

  • "So when you go back, you're going to have to work extra hard to catch up." Aren't most government employees and contractors prevented from working overtime?
    – lazarusL
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 19:58
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    @lazarusL Probably, but hard doesn't mean the same as longer hours. Of course, trying to cram in more work in the same amount of time generally leads to shoddier work, or details not being done, or less important things being dropped, but it doesn't require overtime. I'm just speculating here, but it could probably also result in vacations being cancelled or denied, to make up some of the time.
    – Bobson
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 20:01
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    @lazarusL I'd add to Bobson's comment that many govt employees like their jobs and feel they are doing important work and see their work as crucial to helping other people or the country as a whole. Even if overtime is forbidden and not compensated in any way, those employees may still feel stresses that make them choose to work overtime, or feel peer pressure to do so, whereas they would much prefer simply continuing their work right now and getting paid for it as they do it. Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 22:07
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    Something to add to your answer is they actually lose paid vacation time and this time of year is a popular time for many to take it. abcnews.go.com/Business/…
    – Joe W
    Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 19:07

It is not a paid vacation.

Here are estimated stats on how many federal employees will or won't be working, and what sort of pay they might receive afterwards:

A fact sheet compiled by Senate Democrat staffers estimated roughly 420,000 federal employees would still be required to work without pay, while an additional 380,000 would be sent home, or furloughed, without pay. In the past, government employees have usually received back pay at the end of shutdowns.

So, be aware that some employees will still be working, temporarily without pay, and there is also no guarantee that either the ones who did or did not work will receive back pay.

The headline of this article summarizes one of the many negative impacts of a shutdown.

800,000 government workers may need financial assistance as shutdown continues


With regard to how many families can absorb temporary lost wages...
The Guardian states that almost 80% of US workers live from paycheck to paycheck.
CNBC also states that 76% of federal workers live paycheck-to-paycheck.

On a related note, the stock market has recently been down as much as 20% from the September 21st peak to the December 24th valley. This could spell the early makings of a light recession. A government shutdown could slow down consumer spending temporarily, which could increase the risk of a recession. So this is another reason to be troubled by a shutdown.

  • I have no doubt that some will be working with delayed pay, but I was unable to find a clear law about those that worked being eventually paid or not. I was under the impression that failing complete bankruptcy, employers must pay workers (presumably all are exempt employees who are working). I did not find anything allowing mandated work days without payment. Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 9:58

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