Leadership Corner

Furlough Information For Forest Service Employees

January 26th, 2019 at 1:30PM

Saturday, January 26, 2019

All USDA Forest Service employees are called back to work to once again carry forward our conservation mission.

A continuing resolution has been passed which provides appropriations through February 15, 2019. With enactment of this continuing resolution, the lapse in appropriations has ended and all furloughed federal employees are expected to return to work on their next regularly scheduled work day.

Any employee with extenuating circumstances that would prevent their return on their next regularly scheduled work day should contact their supervisor for guidance.

We look forward to seeing all of our employees this week. Once we resume we will begin the process of recovery and resetting our work together.

A message from Chief Vicki Christiansen and more extensive information on how the Forest Service will resume, recover and reset our work is forthcoming on Sunday, January 27th via Inside the Forest Service and Forest Service email.

 

USDA issued 2nd Furlough Letter:

The partial government shutdown surpassed 30 days. USDA issued a new furlough letter, which is available here: USDA Employee Resources During Shutdown web site (https://www.dm.usda.gov/beprepared).

An Updated Message from Chief Vicki Christiansen on January 25, 2019

Memo to All Employees – I have said many times that our employees are our most important resource. It is very hard as your Chief to know that many of you are facing extremely challenging circumstances right now.  Our core agency values and Code and Commitments are being tested. As we lead and manage through this extended lapse in funding, I can only reiterate ... View the entire message.

Overview:

This page is intended as a resource for USDA Forest Service employees during the current partial government shutdown who are:

  • Furloughed (a type of non-pay status), or
  • “Excepted” from furlough (i.e., continuing to work and earn pay, but their pay is delayed until appropriations are authorized).
  • Employees who are “exempt” from the lapse in appropriations (e.g., because they are not paid from annually appropriated funds) are not impacted.

It does not replace official channels of communication between an employee and their supervisor and home unit.

For Immediate action by Forest Service Employees:

As of Jan. 23, 2019 (The below replaces both the previous Jan. 18th, 2019 instructions detailed in 1_18_HRM_Update.pdf and initial Jan. 17, 2019 instructions detailed in 1_17_HRM_Update.pdf)

In summary:

  • Exempt and Partially Exempt employees who worked and are submitting T&As must :
    • Submit a T&A for Pay Period (PP) 26 prior to submitting a T&A for PP 1.
    • If you worked in an exempt status during January 6-19, 2019, you need to submit your T&A for PP 1.
    • Again, be sure that you have submitted a T&A for PP 26 prior to submitting a T&A for PP 1.
  • For complete instructions, please follow the directions in the attached guide (https://www.fs.fed.us/documents/shutdown/1_23_ HRM_Update_for_web_posting.pdf)

Forest Service employees are authorized to complete an optional rolling orderly shutdown during the week of January 14, 2019.

  • A rolling orderly shutdown is authorized given the timing of the furlough, understanding that many employees were already on approved leave and not as accessible during this time of the year.  A majority of orderly shutdowns were performed remotely and in a limited manner.   
  • Given the on-going duration of the furlough and to allow for a more thorough, in person shutdown, the Forest Service will be communicating the continued use of a rolling shutdown.
  • This includes providing a non-mandatory, optional opportunity for employees to enter the workplace and perform a more comprehensive orderly shutdown for up to four hours, consistent with expressed contingency planning for the lapse of appropriated funding. More details can be found here.

External communication during the partial shutdown is focused on shutdown-related activities and imminent threats to life and property:

  • The Forest Service is maintaining an external website for updates to our operational status during the shutdown. That information is available here: https://www.fs.fed.us/shutdown
  • The Washington Office of Communication is the lead to coordinate all official media inquiries on behalf of the agency.
    • Employees have the First Amendment right to express their personal opinion to the media on their own time. There are several considerations when an employee makes that decision:

Definitions of excepted and exempt:

The USDA Forest Service shutdown plan includes three categories of work that are excepted or exempt during a lapse in funding.

  • Category I – Law Enforcement and Health and Safety (excepted)
  • Category II – Activities not included in Category I and III; financed from available funds, where applicable (exempt)
  • Category III – Protect Life and Property (excepted)
  • Complete details on the Forest Service shutdown plan are available here: https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/usda-fs-shutdown-plan.pdf

Employees are designated under one of four categories during the partial shutdown: exempt, excepted, excepted on-call or furloughed.

  • An individual employee’s status may change throughout the partial shutdown. Supervisors will keep employees informed of changes in status and provide guidance as needed.
  • An exempt employee is not affected by a lapse in appropriations. This includes employees who are not funded by annually appropriated funds. Employees performing those functions will generally continue to be governed by the normal pay, leave, and other civil service rules.
  • Excepted and excepted on-call employees will work some or all their normal tour of duty during a furlough. They are guaranteed to be paid when Congress passes an appropriations bill.
  • Employees who are neither excepted nor exempt will be furloughed. Non-excepted, furloughed employees will be paid for the time spent in furlough status only if legislation is passed allowing for them to be paid.

There are a number of critical activities and training continuing under the three categories identified in the shutdown plan.

  • Any employees asked to participate in these activities will do so as excepted, excepted on-call or exempt.
  • Excepted and excepted on-call employees are guaranteed to be paid for the time worked when Congress passes an appropriations bill. Exempt employees continue to receive pay during the partial shutdown.

General Guidance

This shut down has a real and severe impact on employees and their families.

  • The National Leadership Council has asked excepted supervisors to reach out to employees and check in to see how they are doing, if they have questions, or need assistance.
  • The work of our employees is important and valued and we are looking forward to their return to work.

Every shutdown is a little different- governed by specifics of the time of year, what seasonal activities are underway, and what type of employees are considered essential.  We take these things into account in our shutdown contingency plan and adjust accordingly.

  • The lapse in funding occurred during a significant holiday period when many people were on leave.
  • We are currently in the third week of the shutdown. If the shutdown continues after this week, we are in uncharted territory as a government shutdown has never gone this long. 

From past government shutdown experience, we learned that can use non-appropriated funds to continue critical business functions and public services with appropriate oversight.

  • National Forest System lands remain accessible to the public, though amenities such as restrooms may not be maintained.
  • Decisions on NFS closures will occur at the local and regional level based on conditions at those locations. Prior year funds and recreation feeds may be used to keep locations running as those funds remain available.
  • There will be differences in which Forest Service sites remain open and which sites close across the country. There will also be differences about which sites administered by other federal land management agencies are open or closed.

Employees may consider taking other jobs while we are in the partial government shutdown. There are a number of factors to consider.

  • USDA employees are required to comply with the ethics regulations governing engaging in outside employment or activities (5 CFR Parts 2635 and 8301). https://www.oge.gov/Web/oge.nsf/Resources/Outside+Employment+Limitations (https://www.oge.gov/Web/oge.nsf/Resources/Outside+Employment+Limitationsl
  • During a furlough, the requirement for employees to seek advance approval of any outside employment or activity is waived.
  • As noted above, it is important to remember that the ethics rules still apply to all employees during a furlough period, so any outside activity or employment must not present a conflict of interest with your USDA position and duties. Because employees will not have access to their ethics officials during a shutdown, employees must evaluate any outside activity closely.
  • If there is a risk that the outside activity/employment would create a conflict of interest or even the appearance of a conflict of interest, the employee should refrain from participating during the shutdown.

Support from the Forest Service Human Resource Management (HRM) and National Finance Center (NFC):

As of Thursday, January 10th, the HRM Contact Center is open to assist employees with obtaining personnel documentation, such as Earning and Leave Statements or Notification of Personnel Actions, Standard Form 50 (SF 50) that are needed for unemployment compensation claims.

  • Employees are encouraged to use EPP first. If that does not work and you know that your personal email is not on file in ConnectHR please fill out the PII Release 2016 CC (https://www.fs.fed.us/documents/shutdown/PII_Release_2016_CC.docx), sign and ready to email.
  • The call volume is very high and we only have a few people taking calls. We appreciate your patience.
  • Limited information will also be available about the status of applications submitted for fire positions only.
  • Due to the furlough, the HRM Contact Center is not able to provide assistance for any other inquiries at this time.

Clarification on USDA Forest Service Payroll Deductions During Shutdown

  • We have received clarification on how deductions will work for employees in all three categories (exempt, excepted, non-excepted) during the shutdown. Early on during the shutdown it was unclear how payroll deductions would work if we shifted employees back and forth between statuses within a pay period.
  • We have since learned that it varies depending on each individual’s payroll deductions. The short answer for each category is:
    • Exempt full pay period: deductions work as normal.
    • Exempt partial pay period: depending on their deductions, employees may receive varying levels of net pay. This is because when an employee moves into exempt status, deductions will kick in.
      • The employee amounts owed for health benefits will be tracked in the Employee Personal Page (EPP) but will not be billed until the shutdown ends.
    • Excepted: No timesheets submitted and no deductions will be taken.
  • For complete information, please refer to the following herehttps://www.fs.fed.us/documents/shutdown/Payroll_Deduction_FAQ_Final.pdf

The National Finance Center has confirmed they will process 2018 W-2s and they will be made available to employees as early as Friday, January 25, 2019.

  • W-2s for tax year 2018 are expected to be available on the National Finance Center’s Employee Personal Page (EPP) as early as Friday, January 25, 2019. The National Finance Center (NFC) will also mail out most W-2s by January 31, 2019 except for those employees who opted out of receiving a paper copy of their W-2. The W-2s will cover all payments made between Pay Periods 25, 2017 through 25, 2018.
  • For complete information, please refer to the following here.

Loan Payments during a Government Shutdown Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) (https://www.tsp.gov/index.html)

  • TSP allows for the suspension of loan payments when you go into nonpay status to prevent your loan from going into default. Normally, they require documentation from your agency or service. However, TSP does not need documentation of your furlough at this time. If your loan payments were up to date prior to the furlough, missing one or two payments will not cause your loan to be in default.
  • As long as retroactive pay is approved, all missed loan payments will be submitted and posted to your loan. TSP will provide more information as the furlough continues or as events change.
  • You can check the status of your TSP loan by logging into My Account (https://www.tsp.gov/index.html), selecting “TSP Loans,” and then selecting “Are my payments up to date?” Or you can call the ThriftLine at 1-877-968-3778 and speak to a Participant Service Representative

How to Request an Employee Personal Page (EPP) Password Reset

  • Employees can contact the National Finance Center Contact Center (NCC) at 1-855-632-4468, Monday – Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (Central Time). The NCC is operating on an abbreviated schedule during the Government shutdown, with reduced staff.
  • If an employee did not have their non-Government email address stored in their EPP profile (https://www.nfc.usda.gov/epps/eplogin.aspx) , they must validate the following information to receive a password reset:
    • EPP User ID
    • Government email address
    • Last net pay amount

FACT SHEET:  Pay and Benefits Information for Employees Affected by the Lapse in Appropriations

Note: Please see the documents within the Supporting Reference Materials section at the bottom of this web page for additional supporting information.

  • Payroll Deduction Information During the Furlough
    • Below is Payroll Deduction information for employees during the furlough. When guidance is received after the furlough, updated information will be shared.  
    • For a complete list of employee deductions in the order of precedence, please visit the National Finance Center website (https://help.nfc.usda.gov/publications/PPSO/50446.htm).
      • Fully Exempt EmployeesPayroll deductions will occur as normal.
      • Partially Exempt EmployeesWhen an employee is not working a full tour of duty, they may only receive a small amount of net pay or no pay at all to cover any applicable deductions.  In limited cases, some employees could incur a debt for Federal Employee Health Benefits, Dental/Vision Insurance, or Housing Quarters.  
        • Payroll deductions for Life Insurance; Health Insurance; Union Dues; Housing Quarters; Allotments; and Flexible Spending Account/Health Savings Account will be deducted at the full rate. These are not prorated.
      • Excepted or Furloughed Employees: No pay is being processed at this time, therefore no payroll deductions can occur.
  • Premium pay, compensatory time off and credit hours (for excepted employees)
    • Excepted employees who meet the conditions for overtime pay, Sunday premium pay, night pay, availability pay and other premium payments will be entitled to payment in accordance with applicable rules, subject to any relevant payment limitations. Premium pay may be earned but cannot be paid until Congress passes and the President signs a new appropriation or continuing resolution.
    • Excepted employees may earn compensatory time off and/or credit hours subject to requirements found in 5 U.S.C. 5543 and 6120–6133; 5 CFR 550.114, 551.531, and part 610, subpart D; or other applicable authority. Each agency is responsible for approving the number of hours an excepted employee can work related to the performance of excepted activities. Employees will not be permitted to use earned compensatory time off or credit hours during the shutdown period.
  • Annual and Sick Leave Accrual
    • Any leave you had previously scheduled during the lapse period is cancelled, so you won’t be charged leave.  In addition, per OPM guidance (https://chcoc.gov/content/restoration-annual-leave-employees-affected-l…), if you had properly scheduled “use-or-lose” annual leave that you weren’t able to use because of the lapse in appropriations, that leave must be restored to you.  Your agency will provide instructions on any action you may need to take. Previously restored use or lose, will not be restored a second time.
    • Furloughed employees: You won’t accrue annual and sick leave during the furlough once you’ve been in a nonpay status for 80 hours (for full-time employees with a regular 80-hour biweekly tour of duty).  Congress may, however, authorize retroactive accrual of leave.
    • Excepted employees: You will continue to accrue leave, but accrued leave will not be available for use until funding is provided.
  • Retirement
    • No retirement deductions will be made if you aren’t receiving pay.  Generally, a period of nonpay status will have no effect on an employee’s retirement-creditable service or high-3 average pay unless the nonpay status is for more than 6 months during the calendar year.
  • Allotments from Pay
    • Since no allotments can be made if you’re not receiving pay, you may want to review your allotments to determine whether you’ll need to make alternative arrangements (e.g., if you are using allotments to pay loans, alimony, etc.).
  • Unemployment Compensation
    • Furloughed employees are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits, but excepted employees working on a full-time basis are generally not eligible. Employees who wish to file should do so with the Unemployment Office for the state where the employee worked (i.e., last official duty station prior to furlough).
    • Please be advised, however, if Congress authorizes retroactive pay for furloughed employees, you would be required to pay back any unemployment benefits you received, in accordance with State law.  For more information see https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/furlough-guidance/#url=Unemployment-Insurance-Resources and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees website, https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/unemcomp.asp
    • The Forest Service is unable to issue a general letter to State Unemployment Offices requesting a waiver of the requirement for unemployment applicants to seek alternate employment. This is not something within the agency’s authority.  Human Resources leadership have discussed this with USDA and they are bringing this to the attention of OPM.  We will provide any information as soon as we receive it.  We know three States (i.e., Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC) have waived the job search requirement.  Employees should reach out to their state’s unemployment office for more information.
    • Partially exempted employees are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits as they are still receiving salaries.
    • Employees have asked if those receiving state unemployment insurance also receive Form 1099 tax documents reflecting the unemployment funds as income. This will depend on how individuals are submitting their claims for unemployment benefits and the state in which they file. Form 1099-MISC is an Internal Revenue Service tax return document used to report miscellaneous payments made to nonemployee individuals, such as independent contractors. Additional information can be found on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website: https://www.irs.gov/individuals/employees/unemployment-compensation.
  • Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB)
    • FEHB coverage continues even if you don’t receive a paycheck.  Your share of premiums will accumulate and be withheld later when the lapse ends and employees can be paid.
  • Flexible Spending Account (FSAFEDS)
    • Your FSAFEDS payroll deductions stop when you don’t receive pay.  You remain enrolled in FSAFEDS, but you can’t be reimbursed for eligible health care claims until you return to pay status and your payroll deductions can be made.  Payroll deductions will be subsequently collected to match your annual election amount.
    • Eligible dependent care expenses incurred during the lapse in appropriations may be reimbursed up to whatever balance is in your dependent care account—as long as the expense incurred allows you (or your spouse, if married) to work, look for work, or attend school full-time.
  • Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP)
    • Your coverage will continue.  However, if you usually pay your premiums through payroll deduction, and the lapse period is less than three consecutive pay periods, your accumulated premiums will be withheld when the lapse ends and employees can be paid.  Otherwise, Long Term Care Partners will begin to bill you directly for premium payments.  You must pay those bills on a timely basis in order to continue your coverage.
  • Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI)
    • Coverage continues for up to 12 consecutive months of nonpay status, but premiums are collected only for pay periods for which you receive pay.
    • Federal Employees Dental And Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP)
      • Your coverage will continue.  However, if the lapse period is less than two consecutive pay periods, your premiums will accumulate and be withheld later when the lapse ends.  If you do not receive pay for two consecutive pay periods, BENEFEDS will begin to bill you directly for premium payments.  You must pay those bills on a timely basis in order to continue your coverage.
  • Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
    • For information on the effect of a furlough on your Thrift Savings Plan contributions, loans, and investments, please refer to https://www.tsp.gov/index.html.
  • Employee Assistance Programs
    • Employee Assistance Program (EAP)’s website www.foh4you.com/ contains specific information on its services and tools.  EAP can be helpful in providing confidential counseling with experienced, licensed counselors, and many EAPs can provide access to legal and financial consultation services.  
    • Live EAP support can be reached by contacting the 24hour call center at 1-800-222-0364.  As these services are only for government employees, they will confirm your eligibility.  The Employee Assistance Program can provide free, short-term, confidential counseling on a variety of issues including financial concerns.
  • For Veterans who are also government employees
    • The VA is open for business and actively working to provide furloughed Veteran federal employees affected with much needed support and relief.
    • You can find a detailed list of VA benefits and points of contact for assistance here (https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/55619/).
  • Other Considerations
    • Some mortgage, loan, credit and utility providers have indicated that customers may qualify for alternative arrangements.  Please contact your providers for more information.
    • Note:  This guidance should not be considered time and attendance instructions.  Guidance on documenting time and attendance will be provided by each agency and payroll provider.

Supporting Reference Materials:

Documents Designating Employees as Non-Excepted, Exempt, or Excepted (fulltime (inc. holiday or not) and intermittent) – all issued on 12/22/2018

Employee Enclosures for Furlough Letters

Documents Distributed by FS in Response to Employee Questions - Week of Dec 31