Wayne County, MI
AFL - CIO
Vice President's Report
July / August 2018
Sick Leave - Clearing the Air
There are few aspects of Postal Service employment more contentious than the earned benefit known as sick leave. How contentious? Look again at the preceding sentence. Sick leave is indeed an earned contractual benefit, defined and governed by the provisions of Article 10, section 5 of the NALC /USPS Collective Bargaining Agreement as well as by USPS regulations that are found in the Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM) section 513. However, in postal management-speak, sick leave is typically (but falsely) framed as a "privilege." Yet, nowhere in the Contractual and Handbook/Manual prov1s10ns referenced above does the word "privilege" appear.
False framing such as this is common in the Postal Service as well as in many other aspects of life, for example in the realm of politics. As a pertinent example, there is the insidious and false framing of Social Security and Medicare as so-called "entitlements." Both are actually earned benefits, paid for by American workers throughout their employment careers. Neither Social Security nor Medicare is an entitlement to anything, despite incessant Republican attempts to mislabel them by using intentionally "loaded" terminology.
Despite Postal management's strategy of falsely redefining sick leave as a "privilege" as well as engaging in other contractually unsupported responses and policies, the use of this earned benefit is really is actually a very straightforward matter. Postal Service attendance regulations in the Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM) section 665.41 state that "employees are required to be regular in attendance ". This provision is merely a common sense statement, since no employer can function effectively unless its employees report to work on a regular basis. Unlike management, letter carriers actually have real jobs and are critically necessary to the mission of the USPS.
However, this provision is also intentionally vague, as there is no existing contractual or arbitrated definition or numerical standard of what specifically constitutes "regular in attendance. Over the years the Postal Service has developed some internal policies regarding a numerical definition of "regular in attendance." However, these internal policies otherwise have no standing or applicability to contractual requirements and existing work rules for using sick leave. Most of all, despite the absence of a specific numerical standard of attendance, there are many compelling reasons for letter carriers to make every effort to conserve sick leave to the extent possible.
The Value of Sick Leave
There are few things that can provide more peace of mind for a letter carrier than a healthy balance of accrued sick leave. Fulltime career USPS employees earn four hours of sick leave each pay period, or 104 hours annually. Over the course of a 20-year USPS career, an employee can earn a full year's worth of sick leave. This can be invaluable if serious illness or off the job injury results in an extensive absence from work, providing the financial security of a regular paycheck for a letter carrier and their family.
Sick leave also increases in value over time, as it is paid at a letter carrier's current hourly rate when it is used, not at the lower hourly rate in effect at the time it was earned. Additionally, accrued sick leave also provides some value at retirement, as each full month of a retiring employee ' s sick leave balance is applied as work credit for purposes of calculating a retiree's monthly annuity payment. Thus, there are many solid reasons for conserving your sick leave balance to the extent possible.
Ultimately, the decision to use sick leave should be governed solely by the answer to a simple question. Are you unable to perform your letter carrier duties because of illness or an off the job injury, or do you need to attend to a family member with an illness or injury such that if you had the condition it would prevent you from working? If the answer is yes, that is what your sick leave is for. If the answer is no, then you should report to work as scheduled. Don't overthink the use of sick leave. It is really no more complicated than that.
"Deems Desirable"- Making Them Pay
Unfortunately, in their quest to obstruct the usage of sick leave even when it is appropriate and necessary for an employee to do so, postal management developed and implemented an internal program that is referred to as "Deems Desirable." As background, our Collective Bargaining Agreement (Article 10, section 5.D) as well as USPS leave regulations allow employees to "self-certify" sick leave absences of three scheduled work days or less. Sick leave absences of four scheduled work days or longer require additional documentation. However, there is an additional provision in the Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM) section 513.361 that allows management to request documentation of an absence of three work days or less "when the supervisor deems documentation desirable for the protection of the interests of the Postal Service."
It is from that leave regulation that management contrived their "deems desirable" program. What makes this problematic for most letter carriers who are too ill to work is that such illnesses typically do not and would not require a medical appointment; they are typically treated with rest and over the counter medication. Moreover, most personal physicians are not immediately available by appointment to see an ill patient except in cases of serious illness or emergency. Thus, an arbitrary "deems desired" documentation demand has the direct effect of further inconveniencing an already ill employee, which is exactly the intent of management to begin with.
In some instances, the net result is that a letter carrier that has no business working because of illness reports to work anyway, thereby further jeopardizing their own health as well as potentially infecting coworkers with contagions. It is all but certain that many letter carrier illnesses during last winter's widespread flu epidemic were caused by expo sure to coworkers that had been intimidated into working while ill. So, what's a letter carrier to do in a "deems desirable" situation? Very simply – make them pay for intentionally inconveniencing you while you were ill.
This i's accomplished by ALWAYS requesting to see your steward and initiating a timely grievance whenever you are arbitrarily required to provide medical documentation for an absence of three work days or less. Grievances of this nature should always request as remedy the reimbursement of all out-pocket costs incurred such as medical copays and mileage to and from the medical care facility. In especially egregious instances of arbitrary documentation demands, additional remedy might also be appropriate.
Additionally, the grievance itself is costly to management, who must provide on the clock time for you and your steward to meet, time for the steward to investigate and develop the grievance, and time for you and the steward to meet with management at the initial informal step A level. A grievance that is unresolved after this informal step will cost management even more, as the steward will need to time develop and process the appeal to formal step A, as well as additional costs incurred with the formal step A meeting itself.
The most effective response to any arbitrary documentation demand for a sick leave absence of three work days or less is to make them pay, the first time and every time. File that grievance!
-- Joe Golonka