Government shutdown: Employees lose not only paychecks but paid time off, too

Federal workers are losing earned vacation time because of the shutdown.

December 26, 2018, 6:22 PM

Lisa Gray was supposed to go on vacation with her family on Thursday, but now it's up in the air.

As an air traffic controller, her husband, Thomas, is a federal employee affected by the government shutdown. He won't be getting a paycheck for his work this week, directing aircraft in and out of Oakland International Airport.

But that's not all. His family won't be able to go on vacation, either, since he's unable to receive paid time off for the duration of the shutdown.

"All scheduled paid leave and other paid time off, (including paid holiday time off), are canceled for lapse-affected employees during a lapse in appropriations," the U.S. Office of Personnel Management guidelines say.

As a result, Gray's family vacation may be upended.

"He did have to turn in his vacation week for next week because there’s no guarantee you’d get paid for vacation days," Lisa Gray, herself a former air traffic controller told ABC News.

"It’s hard to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day anyway, and then under these circumstances, it’s worse," she added.

PHOTO: A TSA worker works at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Dec. 25, 2018.
A TSA worker works at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Dec. 25, 2018.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

"Many employees are scheduled to take use-or-lose annual leave in late December and early January (before the end of the leave year on January 5, 2019, for those on thestandard biweekly payroll cycle)," the White House guidelines continued. "All leave is canceled for lapse-affected employees during a lapse in appropriations."

The lapse refers to the lapse in appropriations, or a stall in budget talks, which is what caused the shutdown.

The federal government shut down operations for unfunded agencies on Dec. 22, with President Donald Trump threatening to hold up negotiations until he gets appropriations for a wall on the Mexican border.

Furloughed "non-essential" workers, who are forced to stay home and not work, and "essential" employees currently working without pay will probably get back pay after Congress passes a law to provide it once the shutdown ends. This has been the case in every previous shutdown.

But workers with planned vacation, who are subject to a "use it or lose it" policy in which they cannot roll over days, must choose between the risk of not getting paid back for the time off, or skipping the vacation and taking the financial loss of airplane tickets, hotel reservations and other arrangements that they made in advance — which is the case for many during the holiday season.

The situation can get even more dramatic if someone is already on vacation when the government shuts down. This almost happened to former federal employee Sonia Bendiks when she was in Turkey 10 years ago.

"I had planned the trip for four months," Bendiks told ABC News in an email. "Before I left for my trip, my employer (the USDA) mentioned the possibility of a federal government shutdown. I was told that, if a shutdown occurred, my leave would be canceled and I would have to return to the U.S. immediately."

"I spent many days during my vacation communicating with co-workers regarding the status of the federal budget and the possibility of a shutdown. Thankfully, a shutdown was averted," Bendiks said.

Chris Barrett, a correctional officer at a federal prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania, isn't that lucky.

"I’m supposed to be on leave this week for Christmas and according to the government, I’m not allowed to take my leave. I have to go back to work," Barrett told ABC News. "It was my understanding that all annual leave and stuff like that gets canceled during a shutdown."

Since all prison employees are considered "essential" they have to report to work, Barrett said.

"From what I’ve read, if you’re on annual leave, that’s like you’re getting paid not to be at work, even though you earned that leave and scheduled that leave a year ago," he added.

"You have to cancel that leave and report to work. So it’s a lot of stress," Barrett said. "I don’t know what to do, to be honest with you. It’s out of my control so I have to live with it, but just day by day."

ABC News' Kendall Karson contributed to this report.

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