What happens to Defense employees who took early furlough days?

Aug 9 2013 - 9:25am

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FILE - In this July 31, 2013, file photo, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
FILE - In this July 31, 2013, file photo, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON -- Say you are a Department of Defense civilian worker who tried to get ahead of the curve by taking your mandated 11 days of furlough as quickly as possible.

If so, you were probably chagrined to learn this week that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has reduced the number of furlough days required because of sequestration from 11 to six.

The majority of the 640,000 civilian Defense workers subject to furlough have been taking one day off without pay each week since furloughs began July 8, meaning they will not take their sixth day until next week.

But because local installations and commanders had discretion on how furloughs could be taken, some employees have taken more than six days.

"There are at least a limited number of persons in that situation," said Jennifer D. Elzea, a department spokeswoman. She said that no department-wide figure is available because many decisions were made at the local level.

"Our folks have heard of at least some instances here and there where this may have occurred," said Tim Kaufmann, a spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees. "It's certainly not widespread," he said.

The Defense Department is pondering how to handle such cases. "No decision has been made yet how to compensate these folks," Elzea said. "We're certainly interested in doing what's fair."

One possibility is that the employees would be allowed to get pay for the extra days of furlough by substituting their annual leave.

Guidance to federal agencies from the Office of Personnel Management allows employees who have "proactively" taken more than the required number of furlough hours to substitute annual leave if the agency ends up canceling some of the planned furloughs.

"It may be handled at the local level, with commanders allowing them to convert the extra furlough days to annual leave," Elzea said.

But the AFGE said this would unfairly require these employees to use up their annual leave.

"We would press for those employees to be given full back pay and made whole," said David Borer, general counsel for the union.

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