Federal workers deemed essential during the 16-day partial government shutdown are entitled to double payment for the work they performed Oct. 1-5, according to a lawsuit filed on their behalf.
Attorney Heidi Burakiewicz, who filed the suit Oct. 24 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, says the case is not about "greedy federal employees seeking to get double pay."
Rather, she says, the Fair Labor Standards Act allows the workers to sue for double their normal wages to compensate them for the troubles they suffered by not receiving their pay on time.
Burakiewicz stresses that many of the 1.3 million federal workers deemed essential during the shutdown earn hourly wages and live paycheck-to-paycheck. The original plaintiffs on the suit were five Bureau of Prisons employees, who say they were forced to make difficult health and bill-paying decisions during the shutdown.
Congress authorized back pay for furloughed and "essential" federal workers as part of the deal that reopened all government functions.
"They were all retroactively paid for the base pay they should have received, but that doesn't take into consideration what the government put them through by not receiving their full paycheck on their regularly scheduled payday," Burakiewicz says.
There are currently hundreds of plaintiffs and anyone seeking to join can fill out a two-page form that's "not labor-intensive at all," the lawyer says.
Possible awards "vary from person to person," Burakiewicz says, and she hasn't tabulated the government's possible liability. Sometime soon, she plans to file a motion asking the court to conditionally certify the case and order that notices be sent to all possible plaintiffs, inviting them to join the case.
There is not currently a deadline for signing up for the lawsuit. The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"This case is different than a traditional class action," Burakiewicz says. "When you sue under the Fair Labor Standards Act it requires people to opt in to the case. Every single individual needs to fill out paperwork and submit it."