Furlough protests

Members of the American Federation of Government Employees line W.S. Young Drive in Killeen on Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, to protest furloughs at Fort Hood.

WASHINGTON — Defense Department civilian employees who took more furlough days than necessary because of sequestration can substitute vacation time or other paid time off for those days if they want to be paid for the time, the Pentagon has said.

A Sept. 19 memo said that any excess furlough time “may be replaced, upon an employee’s request, by annual leave, military leave, home leave, compensatory time-off, credit hours, or time-off awards, provided the employee had sufficient leave in the category requested at the time of the furlough occurrence.”

The status of employees who took too many furlough days arose soon after DoD announced in early August that it was paring to six the number of unpaid days it was imposing on some 640,000 civilian employees.

When starting its furloughs in early July, DoD said that affected employees would have to take 11 days, averaging one day a week through September. However, some employees were allowed to group their days in order to be off for a consecutive period. Some already had taken off more than six days by the time DoD cut the requirement to that number.

The Army later in August decided that its own employees could substitute paid leave for excess unpaid time off. That drew criticism from the American Federation of Government Employees, which argued that the department should instead grant retroactive pay without charge to an employee’s leave time.

In an e-mailed comment on the new DoD-wide policy, AFGE National President J. David Cox said: “Again, we see how DoD has decided to target federal workers to bear the maximum burden from sequestration. However, in this instance, we have a chance to fight back at the bargaining table, and we will work to make federal workers whole, and fight to keep the workforce at capacity so the agency will be able to keep functioning to serve America.”

The Pentagon memo said that paid time without charge to leave — excused absence, in the government’s personnel terminology — will be allowed only for “situations in which excess furlough time resulted from a management-directed action.”

Any substituted leave will be paid at the same rate the employee would have received by taking that leave at the time, added the memo from Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Readiness and Management F.E. Vollrath. Excess days will remain as unpaid time off for those not wishing to substitute paid time, it said.

Initially, the Pentagon said it expected to require 22 furlough days, then cut the number to 14, then 11 and settled on six.

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