Federal workers protest the October 2013 government shutdown. Image via Flickr/CoolRevolution (CC 2.0)

All those federal employees who still had to punch their time cards during the government shutdown may just be owed some financial compensation from the federal government, according to a new court ruling. 

Late on Monday Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith of the  U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued an opinion stating the federal government had violated labor laws by failing to pay “essential” federal employees during the 16-day shutdown last October. The ruling comes in response to a class action lawsuit filed earlier this year on behalf on the 1.3 federal workers such as border agents, firefighters, prison guards who still had to come to work despite not receiving their scheduled paychecks.

Campbell-Smith determined in her opinion that the “courts have determined almost universally that an FLSA claim accrues, for limitations purposes, when an employer fails to pay workers on their regular paydays, and that a violation of the Act also occurs on that date.”

From here, the case will have to proceed either to another hearing from a higher court or a trial, in which the government will have to prove that it had “reasonable grounds” for paying employees late.

“It may well be that the government can establish these defenses, but its opportunity to do so will come later on summary judgment or at a trial,” Campbell-Smith wrote in her opinion, punting the question over whether or not the government owed essential employees additional compensation. “Additional factual determinations would remain to be made as to which employees, if any, are entitled to recover damages, if any, to which those employees would be entitled,” she concluded.

The Justice Department claims that they acted within the law, as stipulated by the Anti-Deficiency Act, which bars the government from paying employees when congressionally-approved funds are unavailable.

Should this lawsuit progress to the point where the government is forced to compensate their employees, it will just be the latest unintended cost hanging over the heads of the architects of the shutdown. According to Standard and Poor, the shutdown cost the nation $24 billion in lost economic output and $2.4 billion in lost travel spending. Quite the price tag for a political maneuver implemented in the name of saving taxpayer money.