Federal furloughs: The telework factor

It's not enough that federal employees are working under a two-year pay freeze and facing proposals for pay cuts and workforce reductions. Now a member of Congress is proposing a two-week furlough for agency employees in fiscal 2012.

The idea doesn't come out of the blue. The congressman behind it, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) tried a similar measure last year. Also last year, the Seattle Times editorialized in favor of federal furloughs, pointing out that many state governments have used them to reduce costs. President Barack Obama, the newspaper reported, had expressed a reluctant willingness to consider them, tempered by a worry that agency services would suffer.

“That presumes there cannot be a thoughtful approach to furloughs — for example, sparing essential services and those with vulnerable caseloads,” the editorial states, pointing out that Washington state exempted public safety and health agencies from a furlough of state employees. Similarly, the bill now in Congress exempts some employees for reasons of public safety or national security.

Given the blurring of work and personal time already — exacerbated by smart phones, wireless networks and other technological enablers of always-on workers — a question occurred to us: If you are required to take 10 days off without pay in 2012, will you really take the time off? Or will you try to get some work done anyway?

We posed that question in our "FCW Insider" blog and got some interesting answers.

“It's pretty simple to me: No pay, no work,” one reader wrote. “OK, having said that, I do some volunteer work on an interagency committee. I would probably use the furlough days to work on initiatives for that. But with the new representatives spouting so much hot air about how worthless we are, how can that not affect our morale? Don't the constituents of these neophytes depend on the federal government for some services?”

“If this idiotic furlough proposal passes, I will not be available on any of my furlough days for any reason," Kurt wrote. "I will not be on call, I will not check e-mail, I will not pick up the phone. I will, however, be at the beach. The time the government pays me for is the government's time. Time the government does not pay me for is my time, and the government has no right to that time.”

Kurt said he believes the real motive behind the bill is to squeeze extra work out of federal employees, with employees working unpaid overtime for four days to make up for the work missed on the furlough day. “I can tell you right now that ain't gonna happen," he wrote. "If deadlines are missed because of the furloughs, then so be it. I have no intention of working for free in order to hide the negative consequences of this stupid bill.”

"If we are furloughed, you can also bet that there is no way I will be doing any work,” another reader wrote. “No pay, no work — it is as simple as that. When Congress does not get their reports, tell them I am enjoying my time off. See ya!”

However, some readers worried that supervisors might expect them to work on their furlough days. “Isn't it against federal law to force someone to work and not compensate them?” one reader asked. “Mandating that one check one's e-mail while furloughed is work without compensation. How about cutting the number of congressmen and congressional staff by 10 percent and furlough them [for] 10 days?”

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.


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