I'm assuming the following

1) That Congress will pass a bill that includes backpay for furloughed workers. Some might want to debate whether this will happen or not but going by historic precedent and for the purposes of this question, let's assume they will.

2) That the vacation days can be carried over to the following year. I realize that this may not be the case for all i.e. it may be use it or lose it type of vacation days. Since this shutdown occurred so close to the end of the year, it complicates things but again, assume that vacation days do not expire.

Can non-essential furloughed workers "cancel" their vacation and use the holidays later instead or would this be considered illegal/unethical?

2 Answers 2


All previously approved leave will be cancelled.

The Office of Personnel Management has issued guidance for federal agencies related to what they call "shutdown furlough". There is a question on exactly this topic, which I've reproduced below.

May an employee not excepted from the furlough take previously approved paid time off (e.g., annual, sick, court, military leave, or leave for bone marrow/organ donor leave, or compensatory time off, including religious compensatory time off) during a shutdown furlough?

A. No. All paid time off during a shutdown furlough period must be canceled because the requirement to furlough supersedes leave and other paid time off rights. The Antideficiency Act (31 U.S.C. 1341 et seq.) does not allow authorization of any expenditure or obligation before an appropriation is made, unless authorized by law. Paid time off creates a debt to the Government that is not authorized by the Act. Therefore, agencies are instructed that during a shutdown furlough, all paid time off must be canceled.

"Not excepted" employees are what are the media has been calling "non-essential". That is, they are not excepted from the shutdown furlough.


"Paid time off creates a debt to the government that is not authorized” and thereby results in having the leave time cancelled."

If you had vacation scheduled, the leave is cancelled. That can result in loss of leave if it's part of your "use it or lose it" and can't be rolled over. It also means that for the workers who are currently working without being paid, if they had planned vacation they are required to cancel it and come in to work, without pay, when they were planning on being on vacation.


  • 1
    The ones that are not working also have their leave cancelled, which means it gets returned to them but they lose anything over the max they can roll over (because the shutdown happened before the end of the year). Sorry, I thought that was evident in the article, tbh I mostly skimmed it since it was confirming my experience.
    – David Rice
    Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 16:33
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    @David Rice from your experience, Do I understand you to say that furloughed federal workers will eventually get paid their full wages regardless if they are actually worked or not? As it regards the furloughed workers they are essentially getting a "company sponsored" paid vacation (albeit the pay will be delayed)
    – BobE
    Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 18:09
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    @BobE By default, the furloughed workers are not paid unless Congress specifically authorizes it, historically Congress has always authorized the back pay. Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 23:56
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    @BobE Yes, generally the government tries to pay all the employees their salary, even while they haven't worked. Probably because it'd look bad for the elected officials (executive and legislative) if they made hundreds of thousands go without pay due to a crisis of the politicians' making while the politicians got paid the whole time.
    – David Rice
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 14:54
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    @BobE the problem with thinking of it as a "company sponsored paid vacation" is that they are not allowed vacation time either. So if a furloughed worker leaves town, and a funding bill is passed, that worker is required to return to work immediately. If they can't because they took an unauthroized vacation that is grounds for dismissal.
    – RWW
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 19:17

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