Federal Workers File FLSA Suit Over Shutdown

The labor union representing thousands of government workers has filed a lawsuit alleging the federal government is violating the FLSA by failing to pay essential government workers during the current shutdown. The federal government shutdown began December 22, 2018 and continues today with no end in sight. As a result, funding for most of the federal government’s workforce ended and many governmental workers have been furloughed. However, not all federal workers are able to “stay-at-home” during such an event. It is estimated that over 400,000 federal workers, including federal corrections officers, firefighters, and border patrol agents must continue to work during the shutdown.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the federal agency tasked with managing federal workers, has classified many essential federal workers as “excepted” from the government shutdown. In essence, these workers are required to continue to report to work despite the lack of money to pay their salaries. The suit—which was filed by two “excepted” federal employees—was filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on December 31. Lawyers representing these two plaintiffs estimate there are over 400,000 other “excepted” workers, or in other words, potential future plaintiffs.

This is not the first time this sort of lawsuit has been filed as a result of a federal shutdown. According to the National Law Review, over 25,000 essential federal employees filed a similar suit in 2013, following another governmental shutdown. This suit resulted in a 2017 decision requiring the government pay the effected workers damages totaling “more than twice their back pay” for violating the FLSA.

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