Minnesota Shutdown - state worker impacts, status and resources

Minnesota’s government shutdown is entering its third week with no real end in sight. Rather than looking at the politics driving the shutdown, I thought it important to look at impacts on the 22,000 state government employees not getting paychecks.

First, it’s important to understand that Minnesota – like other states – has determined those agencies and functions which are critical and those that are not during this shutdown. Generally speaking, the responses below are for non-critical employees, i.e. the vast majority impacted by the shutdown. NOTE: the best source for state employee information during MN’s shutdown is: https://www.bereadymn.com/ - a wealth of operational information for state workers (someone should get a prize for this website).

One interesting item of note is how the various state agencies are communicating the shutdown on their websites. Many agency websites are still up, but note the condition of the shutdown. Others, however, are literally gone with brief messages of: “This State of Minnesota website has been suspended for the duration of the state government shutdown.”

Can state employees collect unemployment for the period of the shutdown?

Yes; while every state is different and each furlough or shutdown is unique, Minnesota’s unemployment insurance program has been deemed a ‘critical service.’ In fact, the office has posted good info on how state employees impacted by the shutdown may access benefits.

Will employees continue to receive insurance benefits during the shutdown?

Maybe; depends on how long you’ve been with the state. “A permanent classified employee who receives an employer contribution prior to a layoff and is placed in a layoff status who has 3 or more years of continuous state service at the time of layoff remains eligible for an employer contribution for 6 months.” and “A permanent classified employee who receives an employer contribution prior to a layoff and is placed in a layoff status and has less than 3 years of continuous state service at the time of layoff is not entitled to an employer contribution and will be responsible for the entire cost of all continued insurance coverage.”

Can an employee take vacation or sick leave during the shutdown and be paid for it? What about paid holidays?

No; unless they are in a role deemed critical, then they neither acquire new vacation/sick leave nor can they take and be paid for vacation/sick leave. The same is true for paid holidays. Technically, a non-critical employee is not working – they’ve been laid off.

Will employees be paid for the time of the shutdown?

Probably; but who really knows. In most of the past shutdowns in which state employees have been “laid off” due to a closure of state government, they have received retroactive pay once recalled to work. To help in the short-term, some states have taken the positive step of working with employee credit unions to secure short-term, low- or no-interest loans so that employees can make ends meet. This all being said, the “new normal” of state budgets may very well change whether employees get paid for this period.

How many state employees are expected to return to work once a shutdown ends? Is there a chance a segment will not return, i.e. found other work?

Based on anecdotal reporting from various media sources, many state employees are actively seeking employment elsewhere, despite the poor unemployment figures. Add to this the fact that state and local governments around the country are shrinking their workforces and it wouldn’t be surprising if Minnesota government, like its private-sector counterparts during the recession, calls back fewer employees than it laid off.  See: StarTribune.com, The New York Times, The Economist