Federal employees who worked 2013 shutdown might receive more pay

Federal employees who worked during the 16-day government shutdown last October might receive financial compensation because of a recent court ruling.

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U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith wrote in an opinion issued last week that the government violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by not paying workers on time due to the shutdown.

The workers say the government did not adequately pay about 1.3 million “essential” employees who were required to work during that period because their two-week pay period overlapped with the first five days of the shutdown.

The workers were eventually paid for those days, about two weeks later, once the shutdown ended and Congress approved retroactive pay for the employees.

“It is the view of the court that the government’s payment to employees two weeks later than the Scheduled Paydays for work performed during the October 2013 budget impasse constituted an FLSA violation,” Campbell-Smith said.

A FLSA violation could make government workers “entitled to statutory liquidated damages.” The court did not determine whether employees could earn those damages, however, because the government could prove it acted in “good faith” and had “reasonable grounds” that it didn’t break the law.

It’s also unclear how many workers, and which ones, could receive the extra pay.

About 2,000 of the 1.3 million essential employees have joined the lawsuit, according to The Washington Post. Washington-based law firm Mehri & Skalet, which specializes in workers’ rights, represents the workers. The initial suit, which was first filed after the shutdown last October, includes employees from the Justice Department, Bureau of Prisons and federal prisons across the country.

The government argues it couldn’t pay workers because of the lapse in appropriations during the shutdown. The government also contends that in previous cases involving a FLSA violation, there were much longer periods of non-payment that amounted to months or even years.

Campbell-Smith called some of the government’s arguments “unpersuasive.”

The workers have requested that the judge approve the case as a collective action, which would green-light a mass notice to all federal workers to inform them about the case. The Justice Department has until Sept. 2 to oppose that move.

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