OPM Urges Agencies to Prioritize Speedy Back Pay Post-Shutdown

As 800,000 federal employees and countless contractors head back to work in the wake of a 35-day government shutdown, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is urging agencies to prioritize speedy back pay for feds and to “provide appropriate flexibilities” for employees who may have challenges returning to work immediately.

In the coming days and weeks, human resources, payroll, and shared service centers will have their hands full as they sort out back pay, leave, travel requests and more. They have been instructed to provide pay for furloughed and excepted employees as soon as possible, regardless of scheduled pay dates.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of employees are returning to an overload of emails, incomplete assignments, missed training, computers with outdated passwords and uncertainty about whether they will once again be planning for a shutdown in three weeks. Last Friday, President Donald Trump signed legislation that provides funding until Feb. 15 for agencies impacted by the shutdown.

In anticipation of the president signing a continuing resolution, the Agriculture Department’s (USDA) National Finance Center (NFC), which provides payroll services to more than 650,000 federal employees, was preparing to pay workers as soon as possible for the two missed pay periods during the shutdown. “NFC has advised that employees can expect to be paid no later than Thursday, January 31,” the Justice Department wrote in a message to its employees.

At the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD), employees will receive their first paycheck no later than Jan. 31 as well, according to the agency. That check will include back pay from Dec. 23, 2018 through Jan. 19.

Pay periods vary across agencies, so federal employees should check with their individual agencies on specifics around pay schedules and the timeliness of back pay. (Here’s a calendar of the NFC pay periods.)

“The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is aware of the difficulties created by the lapse in appropriations,” Acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert wrote in a Jan. 27 memo instructing agencies on how to administer pay, leave, and benefits for employees affected by the shutdown. “We are committed to ensuring that retroactive pay is provided as soon as possible. As a result, we appreciate the support of all human resources, payroll and shared service centers to work towards this goal.”

The memo also noted that “the initial retroactive pay may not include pay for irregular overtime work performed by excepted employees during the lapse in appropriations. Payroll providers will work with agencies to make any necessary adjustments as soon as practicable.” At HUD, for example, employees will receive overtime incurred between Dec. 23, 2018 and Jan. 19, during the second pay period.

The 3-week CR means that employees at impacted agencies should get another paycheck during that time. But, again, employees should check with their agencies. The State Department said employee pay for pay period 2 will be disbursed no later than Feb. 14, which is the department’s regular pay date.

The president signed the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act into law Jan. 16, ensuring retroactive pay for furloughed and excepted employees “at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates.” But the law does not cover back pay for federal contracts who were impacted by the shutdown, and Congress has yet to pass legislation that would ensure retroactive pay for them.

Tackling IT Woes

In addition to sorting out pay and benefits, agencies are also challenged with the IT issues caused by the length of the partial government shutdown. In a message to employees, NASA highlighted what those challenges include, particularly over the next 48 hours as employees are returning to work.

“As you return to work, we ask your patience and attention, especially during the first 48 hours,” NASA said in an online message to employees. “The vast majority of end-user IT systems (laptops, desktops, smartphones, etc.) have been inactive since the partial shutdown began on December 26, 2018. This means that many of the critical, regularly scheduled maintenance activities that assure the security and performance of NASA’s IT assets are in a pending state.”

Local help desks affected by the shutdown may be slow to address high call volumes, and employees will likely spend much of their first hours at work accepting security patches and rebooting their IT devices.

Over the next 19 days, lawmakers will once again try to agree on a spending bill that the president would be willing to sign. The continuing resolution does not include the $5.7 billion Trump requested for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which became the central issue of the partial government shutdown. Unfortunately, feds could once again find themselves planning for a shutdown on Feb. 15 if there isn’t an agreement.

“If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will shut down on Feb. 15 again or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency,” Trump said during a Jan. 25 press conference, shortly before signing the continuing resolution. “We will have great security.”

Trump suggested earlier in January that he would potential declare a national emergency to secure funding for his wall. The president later backtracked, however, saying he would prefer Congress reaching a solution.

 Make sure to visit GovLoop.com for follow-up stories on issues that matter most to employees as they return to work, including pay, benefits, morale and more. If you have questions or want to share your experience returning to work, please do so in the comments section.

Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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