Furlough FAQ

If the government shutdown hadn’t ended last night (Oct. 16), some state workers may have faced furloughs. But because the government was only funded through Jan. 7, we could find ourselves in this same position again. Ahead of the deal on Wednesday, staff at the SEA had put together this FAQ on furloughs relating to this situation. While things wouldn’t necessarily be the same in future situations, the information provided below might still be helpful.

  • What is a furlough? A furlough is involuntary, temporary unpaid leave and can be short term or long term.

  • Why am I facing a furlough? Some state employee positions are partially or fully funded by money from the federal government. When the federal government shut down on Oct. 1, the state stopped receiving funding for some programs.  Once any funding that was already available for programs runs out, the state will be unable to pay these employees, putting them at risk of layoff. Because the shutdown could end at any moment, and that layoffs are generally used for longer term loss of positions due to insufficient funding, the state and the SEA agreed to allow furloughs as a means to prevent layoffs due to the shutdown.

  • What will happen to my position if I am furloughed? Your position will remain vacant for that period that you are furloughed, awaiting your return. If for some reason, a future deal by Congress to end the shutdown does not fully restore funding for your program, the state and SEA will reevaluate the situation and develop a restoration plan.

  • My position is only partially funded by federal funds. How will I be affected? If your position is over 75% federally funded, you will be furloughed for each day there are insufficient funds. If your position is under 75% federally funded, you shall be furloughed on a weekly basis relative to the funding source. For example, if you have a position that is 20% funded federally, you may be furloughed one day a week until funding is restored.

  • What is an Addendum to the Collective Bargaining Agreement? Additional provisions agreed upon between two parties that already have a contractual relationship; in this case between the SEA and the State of NH.  It has the full weight of signed contract language and violation of the language would be subject to grievance procedures just like other provisions in the contract. These agreements are typically used to resolve issues when we are outside of active contract negotiations or, as in this case, a rapid response is necessary to protect members’ interests when exigent circumstances arise.

  • When will I be notified if I am being furloughed?  Your employer must notify you and the SEA at least 14 days in advance of the date that funding is anticipated to run out.

  • How is this different from a layoff?  Other than loss of pay, you will continue to receive your monthly leave accruals, your seniority date will remain the same, and your health benefits will remain in place at least through November 30th.  And based on the ability to promptly return workers back to pay status when federal funds are returned, furloughed workers are unlikely to lose health insurance coverage at all.

  • If I take a layoff instead of furlough, can I “bump” another employee? You may be able to but any worker in furlough status will be protected from being bumped, even if they have less seniority than you.

  • Can I choose to take layoff instead? Yes; however, you should strongly consider the ramifications.  You may not be eligible to receive unemployment compensation for time you are off the job in layoff status (in furlough status you generally are), as leave payouts (required in layoff) are normally treated as severance pay.  If you were laid off only a week or two but received several weeks of leave pay out, you wouldn’t be considered to have lost any pay — a prime component of eligibility for unemployment compensation.  Your saved vacation and sick leave would essentially be the pay you earn in layoff and when you are eventually recalled back to work, you would begin earning vacation leave all over and see that 50% of your former sick leave balance would be restored.  Additionally, days in layoff status would not count for purposes of leave accrual progression, and your health insurance coverage would not continue beginning with the next first day of the month that you are in layoff.

  • Will I have any break in service if on furlough? No, you will only have a break in service if you choose a layoff.

  • Will I lose any leave accruals or other contract benefits if I am furloughed? No, you will only stop accruing leave if you choose a layoff.

  • Am I eligible for unemployment while furloughed? Furloughed individuals typically are eligible for unemployment compensation, even if the worker only received a partial work week furlough. The state will provide you with the documentation necessary to bring to the unemployment office. NH Employment Security is the best resource to learn more about unemployment compensation provisions.

  • Can this contract addendum be used in future budget shortfalls? No, the agreement is not precedent setting, meaning it only applies to this specific issue. Also, this agreement expires on December 31, 2013 unless mutually extended or modified.  Unlike legislatively created budget cuts that we have experienced during the Great Recession, this situation was not created by the NH Legislature and the State, as your employer, did not choose to create this budget shortfall.  That’s why this situation is so different.

  • Can I use vacation or other paid leave instead of taking a furlough or layoff?  No, because your position is federally funded there will not be money to pay for any paid leave while you are on furlough or layoff status.The state does not pre-fund its leave obligations.  Whether you were working for pay or on leave with pay, the state would still need those federal funds (that are cut off) to pay you that money.

  • Why did the SEA agree to allow furloughs right now? The State already has the ability to lay off workers if there aren’t sufficient funds to keep them on payroll. If layoffs were to take place, the state would have to pay out contractual leave accruals. Because of this, the state would have to lay off significantly more workers to make up for the funding shortfall than the number who would be impacted through furloughs. In addition, with layoffs, accruals for vacation and sick leave would cease, and there wouldn’t be continued health coverage for those workers (other than the ability to purchase the insurance at employee expense through COBRA rights).  With this addendum, we’ve negotiated special terms that will better protect workers from long term harm due to this temporary crisis.

  • Why can’t the state use the state surplus to keep these federal programs running? Different federally funded programs will run out of money at different times.  No one knows when the Federal government shutdown will be over or whether partial funding will be restored.  The NH legislature would have to pass a new law to fund these programs and as of this point they have not.  Additionally, the current budget already anticipated over $50m in surplus; that money is already committed.  Existing law requires the rest of the surplus to go into the Rainy Day Fund.  There are several state departments that also have to make additional budget cuts, that were adopted in the state budget.  If the legislature does decide to reopen the state budget due to the surplus (and we hope they do), their likely priority will be to reduce the most serious state budget cuts.  In other words, the legislature will likely focus on state financial obligations and long term impact, rather than the short term crisis Congress created through the shutdown.

  • How will furloughs impact state employees who are not federally funded? The impact is unclear. You are not facing layoff, however, there may be instances where your work load is increased due to the furlough of a federally funded worker or if your workload depends on the output of a federally funded position there may delays in receiving that work in a timely manner.  If a worker facing furlough chooses layoff instead, the possibility of displacement (bumping) remains even for workers not federally funded.

  • How long could workers be furloughed for? The severity of the furloughs will be as prolonged as the federal shutdown continues. Once the shutdown is resolved there may be some limited lag time while funding is restored but the state and SEA are aiming for immediate return to work.

  • What can I do to help end the shutdown? You should contact your federal representatives. The New Hampshire congressional delegation has been solid on ending the gridlock. Your call to a representative has two important effects. They  are emboldened to fight for a solution when they receive constituent calls. Further, for them to hear directly about the impact these cuts have on public services and the constituents they serve, they will be better prepared to represent you to end the  federal shutdown. Thank them for their continued support on this issue after clearly letting them know how this impacts New Hampshire.

    • Senator Kelly Ayotte – 202-224-3324.

    • Senator Jeanne Shaheen – 202-224-2841.

    • Representative Annie Kuster – 202-225-5206.

    • Representative Carol Shea-Porter – 202-225-5456.

  • What can I do to help workers that are furloughed or laid off due to the shutdown?  First, keep watching for and reading SEA Notices and News.  Announcements of fundraising efforts or food drives are likely if the shutdown continues for long.  And as always, your gift, whether one time or ongoing, to the SEA Benevolence Fund is a way to help those SEA members facing the most critical financial struggles.

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