If You Are Still Confused About Public vs. Private Incentives...

Can you imagine a private employer doing this?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it will close its offices at 1:30 p.m. Other agencies, such as the Labor Department, expect most employees to be gone by mid-day, but haven't set a specific time.

Once they head home, furloughed employees are under strict orders not to do any work. That means no sneaking glances at Blackberries or smart phones to check emails, no turning on laptop computers, no checking office voicemail, and no use of any other government-issued equipment.

This is not good management.  This is not good government.  This a the management equivalent of a tantrum thrown by a four-year-old.  We'll show them!  Any private white collar workers who feel they are truly off the clock when they are at home and under no obligation to make sure all is going well in their assigned area of responsibility should tell us all where they work in the comments below.

  • http://contraniche.blogspot.com/ August Hurtel

    My boss's daughter works at a chicken factory for the USDA. Apparently she's on furlough but has to work anyway because we wouldn't want to shut down the chicken plant. So she is working, but won't get paid. I am not sure how that works exactly, but I can tell you this is extremely effective propaganda for the Democrats.
    I suppose she gets paid after the shutdown, but there shouldn't be an 'after', except that Republican failure is a built in part of the process.

  • Philip Ngai

    We have a president whose intention is to hurt the American people as much as possible to "teach them a lesson".

  • HenryBowman419

    Of course, "good government" is an oxymoron. This is simply an example of "malevolent government", which the Federal government is increasingly becoming.

  • WasteNot

    Yes, the USDA was funded by the most recent House vote, as was every other aspect of the federal government's operations. The Senate's refusal to fund every aspect of the federal government certainly is effective, though I'm not sure why it should be. I suspect this time around will be like the 17 times prior that this approach has been used - they're no longer even remembered.

  • http://matthewjudebrown.com/ Morven

    Actually, I've been told by private employers to behave this way, but only after my job was reclassified as hourly for fear of overtime suits and the resulting paranoia. Working without overtime approval in place was a firing offense.

  • Bryan

    Actually, I think you may be off base on this one. You're mixing the concepts of working at home/constantly on call with the idea of working when you're not being paid.

    I work for a major manufacturing company (Fortune 100). When demand is down and the company is in austerity, parts of our workforce take Temporary Rolling Layoffs (TLO's) for a week or two at a time, which seems to me to be a close parallel to the furlongs that some government employees are on now. Our instructions when we go on TLO are -exactly- as you've described. "Turn the email sync off on your phone and leave your laptop in your desk at work". I can't really speak to any of the legalities concerned, but the company's approach seems be be that if they're laying people off and not paying wages, they can't have those people providing their services during the layoff.

  • Ben

    Actually, my private company has issued this instruction as well in the past. We usually work at home, on weekends, etc when the need arises, but a full company shutdown is different. Of course, the reason they issued the instruction is government regulations regarding salaried employees, but still -- it's government as the regulator rather than government as the employer which is causing this problem.

  • Noumenon72

    Hey, Coyote, I finally figured out why your blog is all gray text on a gray background for me. In "inline style sheet #3", if you delete the body tag with background: url("http://www.coyoteblog....images/bodybg.gif"); then the page gets the normal white background. I got to thinking about it because my mobile phone browser loaded the gray background and then loaded the white one over the top of it a second later.

    Anyway, congrats on the blog anniversary, I've been going back over some of your archives and you really are a special blogger as far as mixing the personal and the political and being interesting and individual in both areas.

  • Rocky

    My guess would be they don't get much done when they are supposed to be working. These are government employees after all. It's not about performance, it's about keeping the dollars flowing into your department.

  • http://devilish-details.blogspot.com/ mesaeconoguy

    Aren't they under strict orders not to do any work at work?

    How does this change anything?

  • Harry

    Two cynical comments.

    1) If the cutback in hours worked doing economic damage resulted in saving real money,, then it would be doubly beneficial. But I doubt any of these people will lose a dime. As stated below, every federal agency operates under a use it or lose it budget which automatically increases with the ever-increasing baseline. But I would be happy if every single employee of the EPA went home forever on a generous pension, say 60% of salary, provided you move to Paraguay.

    2) As mentioned below, good management of a government agency, if management is defined as making things happen, begs the question of whether those things are good, and not counterproductive, which nearly every time is false. OK, the Pennsylvania Game Commission does a good job managing the deer herd, so it is not always. One has to be fair not to use the categorical All.

    So Pennsylvania should keep the Game Commission, and the US should eliminate HUD and Fannie Mae, a fair trade worth several hundred billion. Then put all those employees into Federal Game Warden uniforms, and send them to Florida to kill pythons and uproot kudzu. This may not reduce the number of employees, but at least they would be doing useful work, and not screwing everything up.

  • Harry

    Provided they move to Paraguay. Coyote can stay where he is.

  • Matthew Slyfield

    I am a salaried professional. I am paid $X / year. I don't get paid by the hour, so when am I not being paid?

  • mesocyclone

    It's because of the Antideficiency Act of 1884.

  • Bryan

    The situation that I described above includes many salaried employees. All of our salaries are normally defined in $X / year as you've said, but I don't believe that any salaried workers really get paid one lump sum annually. Paychecks come out monthly and on the pay stubs (at least of our company) the salary is even broken down to a $ / hour figure based on 40 hours a week (which is a joke in and of itself). If you go on TLO for a week, your next pay check will reflect that.

  • EdS

    IBM recently did a furlough. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-05/ibm-furloughs-u-s-hardware-employees-to-reduce-costs.html . Workers who wanted to respond to emails on an unpaid basis were told they must not do that. I had assumed the inactivity was legally mandated.

  • Michael Stack

    So I have also seen employers prohibit folks from checking email at home but it was always hourly folks. The concern was indeed a legal one - we could have been sued by hourly workers who claimed they were unpaid while 'working'; checking email at home.

    For a white-collar worker who is salaried, I think the comparison holds. I think it's also worth pointing out that for private hourly employees, the fear of permitting folks to work at home is based on fear of government reprisals, not anything based on business concerns.

  • Another_Brian

    One of the things I've noticed with all of the shutdown coverage is that when they interview furloughed employees, they're all talking about how no one's working. But haven't we been told that government employees have sacrificed a better salary in the private sector to be "public servants", and they're doing it at a discount because they "just want to serve"? If they could just up and leave their jobs for private sector equivalent work at far higher pay at any time, why can't they just volunteer to continue "serving" until the whole budgetary mess is resolved?

  • Matthew Slyfield

    I don't get paid by the hour, I get paid the exactly the same whether I work 40, 50 or 60 hours in a week. Of course the company saying that it's paying by salary is not enough by itself for the employees to qualify as overtime exempt. There are a host of other rules, such as OT exempt employees pay can not be docked for absences of less than a full day. Your company probably has the IRS on its back pushing back that some of it's salaried employees don't qualify as OT exempt.

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  • Shrinivas BalacharitabaleTrust

    Balaji 153-F World tallest-Largest

    STATUE&Temple of Lord Balaji Undar con..in Bradol &Tentative drawings

    of Sri Balaji Dham

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Balaji-Charitable-Trust/416279521774535

    http://www.balajicharitabletrust.org

    Balaji Statue 153-Fit World-India`s Larjest

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  • Obviously off the record

    My understanding is that the lack of funding for non-exempt jobs makes doing those jobs anyway illegal - disbursing funds without authorization amounts to theft/fraud, and doing the work for free runs afoul of accounting and auditing regulations. These rules protect the public interest, which should be obvious. We can't have individuals spending the people's money without authorization. We also don't want businesses giving the government under-the-table freebies. I mean, this is Article I stuff - the executive branch can't spend money without congressional authorization. That's how it is supposed to work - you know, checks and balances, that stuff.

    Now, while I can't speak on behalf of the government or my employer in any official capacity, as a manager I cannot in good conscience instruct my staff to disobey the law. Are you seriously suggesting that I do so? And this from the guy who will fire his staff for working instead of taking a lunch break in California? But forget the law. Morally, I think it would be wrong to expect my employees to work when I cannot pay them. I think it's great that someone feels so much loyalty and responsibility to me that they feel that they should check on things at the office while we're shut down, but as their manager I have a duty to show them the very same loyalty and responsibility to them and say, no, we're not working.

    Now, I have no idea how your business works or what your relationship to the government looks like. I'm pretty sure that some of your readers are unfamiliar with government contracting based on the comments I've seen so far. Here's a high-level look at what's going on:

    * No budget approval makes spending money illegal (see Article I of the Constitution).

    * This is a partial shutdown, meaning that any work that isn't "essential" or "excepted" stops.

    * Excepted or essential work is anything that must be done to protect the immediate safety of life or property.

    * Work is halted on a case-by-case basis, with agencies making those decisions under the guidance of OMB (so the process is highly decentralized).

    So to give you a completely made up, hypothetical example, the U.S. border guards are still at their posts (essential to protect the immediate safety of life or property), but their administrative assistants probably aren't (making photocopies or distributing mail isn't essential to protect etc.)

    Also, I just _love_ the snide remarks everyone's making about federal employee/contractor productivity and service delivery. The fact that the work we do is in the public interest is _extremely_ important to me, to my staff, to my colleagues, and to my management. Our government is far from perfect, but that doesn't mean that government employees and contractors aren't cognizant of their duty to the American people.

  • Bryan

    I think that I confused the issue when I said that our company pay stubs break the salary out by hours. I only meant to illustrate that salaries are certainly subdivided past the yearly figure. My position and the others that I referred to are definitely 'proper' salaried positions. Working 40, 50, or 60 hours a week changes as needed, I'm not 'on the clock' in any formal sense, and my coworkers and I take work home and adjust our at work hours to fit our schedule (within reason).

    Because of the cyclical nature of heavy manufacturing, our company uses various tools to control costs when demand is down. This includes temporary layoffs (TLO) of salaried employees in support roles (overhead). TLO never happens for time periods of less than a week, but when you do go on TLO you are not paid for that time period and our instructions are exactly as Warren described. "Turn the email sync off on your phone and leave your laptop in your desk at work".

  • CT_Yankee

    My (Very Major Telecom) employer also prohibits unapproved overtime. Reading TXT's, emails, or responding to voicemails is "work". It makes the company responsible to pay you, even if unauthorized, so therefore the company responds with. disciplinary action, up to termination. We are "required" to report the unauthorized overtime for reading TXT's, to permit the companies compliance with workplace regulations. The company pays you for the time, then fires you for insubordination.

    This is almost exactly the same situation Warren described in the past where he had to make not taking a lunch break a firing offense, because permitting it would make him liable to claims for back-pay.

    As stupid as the idea sounds, it becomes understandable and makes sense once you realize that the action is taken to avoid liability due to stupid government regulations. We all are forced to do strange things, that we know make no sense, because people with no sense made the decision for us.