With the mass furlough of hundreds of thousands of U.S. government workers (and probably an equal number or more of contractor employees), I'd think at least some of these folks may use the time off to pursue other options. This seems an unprecedented situation for which there are no accepted practices I'm aware of. I expect this is so unprecedented that laws and employment agreements do not cover the situation (while not one of those furloughed, I'm certain the employment documents I signed when I took my current job do not address this situation).

For someone who finds a new job, but is still furloughed indefinitely, how can they go about resigning from their current job when they may be prohibited from contacting their boss? Would their furlough time count as part of their notice period (usually two weeks, minimum), at least from the time they submitted their resignation? Or would they be required to spend two weeks (or whatever notice period is required) in their old job once the furlough ends? Can they start at their new job immediately, perhaps with the understanding that they'd need to go back to the previous job temporarily once the government "shutdown" ends? Also, how would personal property be obtained from the work site when the person might be locked out of that work site?

  • 2
    There is plenty of precedent for US Government shutdowns Oct 8, 2013 at 20:39
  • @JamesSnell: While there have been previous shutdowns, most were short in duration. Also, many were limited in the number of governmental organizations they affected. Only one was as wide ranging and long lasting as this one, and it was long enough ago that any precedents it established would be of questionable value now.
    – GreenMatt
    Oct 15, 2013 at 14:05
  • Fair point, @GreenMatt - but I did post a week ago :) Oct 15, 2013 at 15:33
  • Fair point, @JamesSnell, but the shutdown was already a week old at that point and already beyond the duration and breadth of most of the shutdowns listed in the article you linked to. :) (Also, I didn't have time to read it in the intervening week, especially since I was traveling for much of that time and only making quick checks of the site.)
    – GreenMatt
    Oct 15, 2013 at 17:54
  • @GreenMatt - You claim there isn't a policy to determine what your options while furloughed except there is, its handled by OPM, and if additional clarification is required provided by your organization itself. Besides the last government shutdown was 21 days. You will have to wait to formally resign because unless your Supervisor is excempted, they are also furloughed, but feel free to send in your intent using your personal email. Once the government shutdown is over, your supervisor will get in contact with you, and you will go through the normal exist procedure.
    – Donald
    Oct 16, 2013 at 12:42

3 Answers 3


For most people in the USA with a "regular" job - paying a salary, what the people in the job call a permanent job but the employers never do - you have no legal obligations whatsoever to stay in your job or to give any notice. If you want, you can just stop coming to work. You won't be paid for the days you weren't there, but so what? In fact many firms have rules about what they'll do if you just stop coming in - for example they'll assume you're taking vacation at first, and you may earn a paycheque for the first few days or weeks you're away. Eventually they will deem you to have quit. You probably won't get a great reference, but you're not going to get sued or charged with anything.

Obviously, if you have a written contract that says you will do something, such as giving notice, then you must do so the first chance you get, or suffer whatever the penalty is in the contract. In this situation I would tell my new employer that there was a small chance I would need to spend 2 weeks (not paid by the new employer) working out my notice at my old employer when the furlough ended, and I would make sure the new employer was ok with it. Since most employers would rather you not work your notice, I'm quite sure if you emailed or called your boss the first day back to say you quit, they would tell you not to come in and just do the paperwork.

In the absence of such a written contract you are risking two things: you might not be allowed into the building to claim any personal possessions left behind when the furlough started, and you might not have a claim for back pay. Apparently these things tend end with everyone getting paid for the time they didn't work, but if you have moved on you might not be eligible.

If those don't worry you, go ahead and look for different work. I've had people that I laid off temporarily go and find new work while laid off. I understand it's one of the risks of laying them off.

  • Your advice is very good. Additional if the author's intends to leave his position, sending an email from his personal email to his supervisor's work email, will provide the notice. Since its likely the furloughed employees will be given pay, additional notice period is unlikely, after all its not the employees fault they were legally not allowed to go into work. Of course one must point out, working for the United States as a federal employee is different then your typical employer, the furloughed employees, legally cannot enter their work site even if they have access to it.
    – Donald
    Oct 16, 2013 at 12:45
  • I'm not sure how different that is. When I laid people off I did not demand their office keys but I did tell them not to use them. Oct 16, 2013 at 13:00
  • There might be additional elements to an exit procedure. There might be access cards which are government property. They might have to go through a security exit procedure. It really depends what the furloughed employee does exactly. All this would be normally be done on the last duty day, legally it cannot be done, if an federal employee was to "quit" during an emergency furlough period. Your advice overall was good, most supervisors wouldn't likely force somebody back, except in a case, where they the employee is legally obligated to return government property.
    – Donald
    Oct 16, 2013 at 13:06

Executive Summary

Check your contract. Look for the following items:

  1. What is required to terminate the agreement?
  2. What are the consequences for terminating the agreement prematurely?
  3. What language, if any, covers unexpected events like this furlough?

I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. The goal of this information is to provide guidance on where to look to find what is written yourself and is not meant to be a substitute for proper legal advice.

Termination Clause

Most contracts will have a whole section discussing how the contract can be terminated (though important information can be hidden in the rest of the contract). Most employment contracts are relatively one-sided (the employer has a lot more rights to terminate the contract than the employee).

Look carefully through this section to see what the process is for the employee to terminate. Things like:

  1. Can the employee terminate for cause? (For instance, if the employee is not paid, are they allowed to terminate the agreement?)
  2. What is the notice period?
  3. Does the notice period start from notification or from receipt of the notice?

Early Termination

If you terminate early, what consequences (if any) does the contract say you have? For instance, some employment contracts may state that training expenses, or relocation expenses have to be reimbursed to company if the agreement is terminated early. Go through the contract and make sure there are no hidden traps if you do leave the agreement. While these should be in the termination clause, lawyers love to make things confusing for laymen reading them and may hide this wording somewhere else in the contract.

The point is that you want to know what will happen if you just get up and leave in the worst-case scenario.

Force Majeure/Furlough

See if your contract specifically addresses the possibility of furloughs and how they are handled. There is the possibility that these are hidden under a section about Force Majeure which often includes government action. If there is a section describing this, it may explain whether you will be given back pay, or what your rights are to leave, etc.

If this isn't covered in the contract anywhere, there is a possibility that the company is in breach of contract, though you should consult with a lawyer to be certain.


If you determine that notice is required, I would mail a resignation letter to your office. If you send it registered mail, nobody will be at the office to receive it I assume, so that probably isn't a great way, but at least you will have a post mark and a dated resignation letter waiting on your boss' desk when he gets back.

If receipt of notice is required, you are kind of stuck. As mentioned you may want to contact your new employer, explain the situation (2 weeks is required after receipt of notice, but nobody is around to receive notice), and hopefully they will understand and be willing to wait.

In all past shutdowns, employees received back pay after the shutdown was ended. If you resign during the shutdown, you should be willing to forgo that back pay in a worst-case scenario. Also realize that, despite the extraordinary circumstances, this will cause a strain on your coworkers who have to catch up on weeks of work and are short-handed. While they may understand the reason you are doing it, don't expect them to be happy about it.

  • "In all past shutdowns, employees received back pay after the shutdown was ended." That applies to government employees, and news reports are that it will this time too. However, there are many people who work for companies with government contracts who have also been furloughed. It is my understanding that whether or not they will receive back pay will be determined by the terms of the contracts (between the government and the company) which create their jobs.
    – GreenMatt
    Oct 9, 2013 at 4:23
  • @GreenMatt, if you are a contractor for a private company who has been furloughed, you are likely not restricted from talking to your boss as federal employees are (the company would theoretically be in business, even if certain portions which serve government contracts are on furlough). If there is a private company creating this artificial restriction, that puts a totally different dimension on this question which goes beyond what I interpreted the intent to be. The asker can always clarify, of course.
    – jmac
    Oct 9, 2013 at 4:27
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    @jmac - GreenMatt actually is the author but I agree, additional clarification is required, because these private companies are choosing to furlough their employees, they are not required to. The issue of backpay is up to those companies, backpay in the context of a federal employee, is up to congress. Furthermore a furloughed contractor is able to contact their boss at their home office, just not their assigned federal supervisor, since that person is likely furloughed.
    – Donald
    Oct 16, 2013 at 14:12

The below assumes you are in the US.

When they may be prohibited from contacting their boss

I never heard of this..... Of course you can contact you boss. It not like you have a restraining order, What are they going to do Fire you?

That said, you are NOT reqierd to give two weeks notice, its a professional courtesy.

If they are currently paying you, or plan to back-pay you: Send an email (or call) your boss with giving them 2 weeks notice, you should expect to paid for those 2 weeks.

If they are NOT paying you, and don't plan to back-pay you: Send an email (or call) your boss with your resignation effective immediately, stating you have bills to pay and need to earn money to pay them. To do so you have accepted another job and will be starting immediately,

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    This answer could cause significant issues for anyone who actually does have a contractual obligation..
    – enderland
    Oct 8, 2013 at 16:53
  • 3
    By "prohibited from contacting their boss" I mean: At least some furloughed government employees and contractors are prohibited from performing any work activity, including use of government email, telephone/voicemail, etc. Thus, unless you know how to contact your boss outside of normal work communications, you are effectively prohibited from contacting him or her.
    – GreenMatt
    Oct 8, 2013 at 17:16
  • 2
    @GreenMatt You can email your boss's work address from a personal account.
    – Morons
    Oct 8, 2013 at 18:28
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    @Morons: Yes, you can email the boss via your personal account, but your message probably won't be seen until the furlough is over. As for your comment to enderland about a furlough being a violation of your contract: the contract is probably written so that funding is required to keep people working but other terms of the contract apply even if funding is suspended; furthermore, since most states allow employment at will, you may risk termination if you push the issue.
    – GreenMatt
    Oct 8, 2013 at 18:52
  • 3
    These are extenuating circumstances, being terminated can have negative repercussions later. Also, if there is some sort of legal/contractual obligation to provide two weeks (or more) notice, it may be that your notice period does not start until your resignation is seen by someone in management or HR. I am not sure of any of this (part of why I asked the question), but they are issues to be considered, IMO.
    – GreenMatt
    Oct 8, 2013 at 20:32

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