I'm a newish employee (4 months on the job), and for some reason, my job description falls in the category of "essential services", although in real terms, it isn't. There are several others like me in the department (all senior), and now that the House has approved back-pay and the Senate most likely will as well, everyone is wishing they were furloughed (hello, free vacation!). The head of our department has now offered (informally) to review individual cases of non-furloughed personnel and furlough them (if they wanted it) if they were truly non-essential.

Is this option worth taking? Are there any possible repercussions (career wise) from getting furloughed? Will it look bad for a new employee to be "wanting out"? It is quite bad as it is to work on a thin skeleton staff and it as good as not working...

  • are you a contractor or government worker? – mhoran_psprep Oct 9 '13 at 16:15
  • @mhoran_psprep fed employee, not a contractor. – user10816 Oct 9 '13 at 16:21
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    Out of all of my government employee friends (and partner), which is a lot since I live in Washington DC, not a single furloughed one of them wants to be furloughed, and none of them are considering it a free vacation (regardless of whether the Senate votes for back pay or not, which is not guaranteed). Every single one of them wishes they were working, skeleton crew or not. That being said, only you can answer, in your department, what self-describing as "non essential" will do come review time. Someone thinks there is work to be done in your department... – jcmeloni Oct 9 '13 at 17:35
  • You should think about how important this job is to you. Do you intend to work for the government for a long time, or is this just 'a job' while you're looking for something that you'll actually enjoy a lot more? If it's the latter, in your situation I'd probably volunteer. – Eric B Oct 9 '13 at 19:35
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    I imagine it would be frustrating from a tax payers point of view for a federal employee to opt not to work with the expectation of being (back)paid. – antony.trupe Oct 9 '13 at 21:25

You probably would not directly hurt your career as the definition of essential and non-essential is more about who is needed in an emergency than whether the job is needed, so it is unlikely to mean your job would get eliminated by volunteering.

However as a new employee, I would counsel you against this because it gives the impression that the free vacation is more important to you than anything else and that is not an attitude that impresses supervisiors. If you had a longer track record with this group of people, you could probably opt out with no consequences because they know you and your work and your value to the organization better (unless you are perceived in general as a poor performer and then you are furthering that impression). But as a new employee I would avoid any action that could be interpreted as taking my job less than seriously. This is especially true if some of the senior managers are part of the group intially furloughed and they did not want to be.

Further while people are out, it is your chance to shine by taking on more responsibility. That is a golden opportunity and it would be foolish to throw it away.

Just remember, perception is the most important thing in how your managers will judge you. If they perceive you as a slacker, it doesn't really matter that you are not. If they perceive you as someone who steps up during a trying time in the organization, they will think better of you than they might at this early stage of your career with them.

(I should point out I was a federal employee for 14 years.)

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    This is especially prudent as a Federal employee of only 4 months can be easily dismissed. Less so after a year and up to the end of the probationary period (which I hear is 3 years now), but still of concern until "permanent" (not sure if it has a label or not). – David Navarre Oct 9 '13 at 18:33
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    @DavidNavarre Good point on the probationary period. It differs from position to position, but is still at least 12 months for most. – jcmeloni Oct 9 '13 at 19:55

Some positions get designated essential not because day to day operations require that a shop be open at all times, but because if something goes wrong the powers that be want someone on hand, right now, to deal with it.

If that is the reason a shop has designated essential positions, it's entirely possible that you have very little high-priority work to do during the government shutdown. Your boss probably knows this too.

As a new employee in government, it is likely that there are reams of policy and guidelines that impact your work that you have never read. Or maybe there is some low-priority project that isn't normally allocated resources. Talk to your boss about one of these. Either is a productive thing that you can do, and keeps you available in case the batphone rings.

That said, to your questions:

Is this option worth taking?

If you really value the possibility of free time off, then it might be.

Are there any possible repercussions (career wise) from getting furloughed? Will it look bad for a new employee to be "wanting out"?


  • A non-essential position is more likely to be cut for cost savings than an essential one.
  • If you and your boss both know that you have no high-priority work to do right now, and you and your boss both know that you could be making productive use of your time, then your boss will probably think less of you if you ask to be furloughed.
  • If there is literally nothing for you to do in your job description, see if your boss wants to loan you to another team. This would expose you to other aspects of your organization, and give valuable experience that would make you a more valuable employee.
  • If your boss isn't jaded about working for the public service (i.e. still thinks it is a good thing to do, rather than just a job with a pension), and thinks you are asking to be furloughed so that you can have free time off, he will probably be very displeased, even if he doesn't express it to you directly.
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