on Apr 27th, 2009 in Labor | 156 comments
 
Career employees earn 4 hours of sick leave for a full pay period (80 hours), or at a rate of 5 percent. Some career employees are currently taking sick leave at approximately the same rate, liquidating their leave bank. The Postal Service’s sick leave absence rate (absenteeism) was 4.3 percent in 2008. This seems high compared to the 1.1 percent rate the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports for employees in the private sector and 1.7 percent rate for employees in the federal sector. So why was the Postal Service’s rate higher? A 2007 private sector survey by CCH Incorporated indicates two thirds (66 percent) of U.S. workers who take unscheduled sick leave do so for reasons other than physical illness, such as personal and/or family issues, stress, or entitlement. Is the Postal Service’s sick leave rate higher because employees call in sick for reasons other than physical illness?

The Postal Service cannot ignore the $1.4 billion spent on sick leave last year and recognizes that the best person to do the job is the person hired for it rather than a replacement. The Postal Service identified approximately 35,000 employees in 2008 with 20 or more unscheduled absences. That means 5 percent of its employees have nearly one absence for every paycheck! What is the impact on morale to the other 640,026 career employees? Is there something the Postal Service can do to reduce the number of unscheduled absences? We’d like to know how you feel about these issues.

Please take our survey.

This blog topic is hosted by OIG Human Capital.

156 Comments


Big Dawg, Dental appoitments can be made "after" work...When I was in the private sector, that was they way appointments were made, not during work hours.

Hey RC--LIGHTEN UP!!!! sometimes APPOINTMENTS(not appoitments-as you spelled it) CAN'T be made after work. Your NOT in the private sector anymore!

When I get done delivering mail all day I am too tired to then go sit in the doctors office another couple of hours. Maybe if I had an office job and moved stacks of paper from one side of the desk to the other it would be different. Get out in the field and see what a real jobs entails.

In case you didn't see my name, it is RC. That would mean RURAL CARRIER. And also having worked in the private sector in an office setting in the past, try it sometime and just see how EASY it is. Oh yeah, it was REALLY easy. I guess you have never done that either.

You must be a supervisor.

Acutally, as stated above RURAL CARRIER.

if there was a financial incentive (cash-wise) received upon retirement, employees would be less likely to burn-up their sick leave.
It would be a win-win for the post office. Because the post office is similar to police depts.,fire depts. and hospitals (e.g.nurses) that is, that absences must be covered (filled-in) with a second employee being paid overtime.
I realize that 100% dollar-wise reimbursement would seem excessive to some "third-party" observers.
However, a percentage retirement incentive might be resonable. Even 25% of value for 2080 hours of "saved leave" would result in a check (before taxes) of about $13,000 for many employees with about 30 yrs. senority. This would be an incentive for employees to look forward to...and...would probably actually save money for the postal service because it wouldn't have to pay overtime to a replacement to "cover" the sick-leave call-in.
Any comments concerning this?

Actually, most offices have subs or back-ups, therefore, no OT created.

Take the total uscheduled sick leave days taken and devide by 5. This equals the number of jobs which need to be eliminated. Start with the sick leave takers regardless of age or seniority.

Start with managment.

Allowing employees to call in and not have to speak to their supervisor was the worst thing the post office could have done. It is so much easier to call in sick now when you are really not sick since you have no one to talk now to but a recording.

First of all, I think the biggest problem with sick leave is the abuse of FMLA. The employee who has FMLA is covered no matter what and can call in, go home early, come in late and nothing can be done to them. They continually abuse this system eventhough there is nothing wrong with them. Thus, this causes the other employee's who do not have FMLA to become very frustrated when they have to pick up the slack for these people all the time. I work at a PD&C and its the same people day in and day out that abuse their FMLA.
Secondly, discipline needs to be addressed and As Soon As Possible!!!! I see employees receiving Letters of Warning for just three occurances within a year! I think this is a bit excessive. A few years back they were letting you have two occurrance per quarter, now all of a sudden its three in a year. There needs to be a written policy on how many times an employee may use sick leave without being disciplined and this policy needs to be distributed to every single employee so they no where they stand. Right now I am afraid to call in, as when I am sick I do not always go to the doctor, but now management is asking almost everyone to bring in medical documentation which I also do not agree with unless you are an abusive user of sick leave. Of note, I have gone to work sick a few times this year as have many others, which only spreads germs and makes other people sick as well.
Thirdly, I would like to know how an employee on Tour 1 who sleeps most of the day and lets say wakes up around 8pm to go to work at 10 or 11pm, but feels very ill and probably can not stand on his/her feet all night, push, pull, lift and carry mail all night, can call in sick without it being an "unscheduled absence".
We do earn this sick leave and I feel we should be able to use it without fear of discipline as long as we are not abusing the use of it.

Try delivering a rt when you've got the flu or diarrhea-6 -7 hours out on the street-there are bathrooms every where, right?

Here is something that I haven't read yet. With the reduction in the availabilty of subs, if you really want a day off, you have to call in.
My son will be graduating from College out of state next year. I will try to secure the time through the A/L leave book. But if I can't confirm those dates, do you think I will be calling in S/L for 3 days? You can take it to the bank, I will not miss my sons college commencement. Not only give us credit for unused S/L, but also hire enough subs (that is what I thought subs were for).
Management also demands productivity increases EVERY SINGLE DAY. As a City Carrier, this takes a toll on the body, especially when you manadate me to work my day off. Sunday alone is not enough to recharge the physical battery.
If I have a knee, or a back issue, I can't necessarily point to the job specifically. So I need S/L. I don't want to do OWCP, because I don't want to be harrassed while trying to recover. I don't want the OIG going into my personal Medical file. And I want the Doctors bills paid in a reasonable time frame. So, given all this, I will burn the S/L.
Oh, yeah, OIG, what happened about the 3 previous complaints that I filed with your office? They didn't get any action. Do you really care?

The installation I work at conditions you to use your s/l.I have submitted ,during course of a year,5 a/l slips for time off.All 5 times I was denied a/l (needs of service).So if I cannot get a/l thru the proper channels.S/L is my next course of action.If you REALLY need a day off,never submit a 3971.I.E. had a wedding to go to.SDO says bring in invitation as proof.RIDICULOUS

USPS HQ needs a different formula. Forget about sick leave abuse, how about a "time worked" percentage. Consider Admin Leave, LWOP, FMLA, Sick Leave, unscheduled Annual Leave, AWOL, Comp time, and "work from home" (some allowed to telecommute 3 days a week). While others run a second business on the clock; i.e., real estate agent. I believe my group at HQ would be hard pressed to come up with a 60 percent work percentage in a non-Holiday work week. Sick leave 4 1/2 percent? Child's play.

Plus, here is another thing from a different angle. I believe that in light of all the MANDATED OT, carriers should be pro-rated appropriate amounts of annual. If a carrier works, 520 hours OT in a year, they should get 26 hours S/L, and if they are in the 200 hour annual bracket, they should get 50 hours of A/L credited to them. As well, as having the "high 3" be based on actual and not the base amount. It would only be FAIR.

Sick Leave is an earned benefit. Sick Leave is also our short term disablity. Granted some people "abused it." Who are we to judge what is and what is not abuse. Most people use Sick Leave to a minimum. We all know of cases of people who are sick, hurt, etc. that run into bad luck and run out of it.
Supervisors are the ones who monitor sick leave usage. It is suppose to be on individual basis. If the supervisors are not monitoring sick leave usage, why are they still working? Should they be held accountable? I am fortunate enough not to have any problems with my sick leave usage.
The postal workforce is averaging 47+ years of age. We now do more then ever before. Most of the plants work the worse hours. There is few chances to ever get on days.
There is serious reasons people use their sick leave up especially before retirement.

We earn 104 hours a year for sick leave. Everyone not just FERS employee use as much sick leave right before retirement as it does very little to add to the retirement and much more if you work it. It only adds to the years of service and not to the high 3 years. It will save the USPS money by adding it to the FERS employees years of service at retirement but as they will see it doesn't add enough to make it worth the while to save it. All employees FERS and CSRS should receive the value of their sick leave when they retired paid for what it is worth. Then employees would have reason not to abuse. It would be a win win as the USPS would not be using overtime to cover vacancies and the employees would not suffer as much trying to do their own jobs as well as cover for the employees that call in sick. As for the for the ones that abuse it, they will always abuse it. One reason is as good as the next.

We earn 104 hours a year for sick leave. Everyone not just FERS employee use as much sick leave right before retirement as it does very little to add to the retirement and much more if you use it. It only adds to the years of service and not to the high 3 years. It will save the USPS money by adding it to the FERS employees years of service at retirement but as they will see it doesn't add enough to make it worth the while to save it. All employees FERS and CSRS should receive the value of their sick leave when they retire, paid for what it is worth or add the time as worked for the high 3 years. Then employees would have reason not to abuse. It would be a win win as the USPS would not be using overtime to cover vacancies and the employees would not suffer as much trying to do their own jobs as well as cover for the employees that call in sick. As for the for the ones that abuse it, they will always abuse it. One reason is as good as the next.

Sick leave usage is directly proportional to poor management.

Bad management = High Sick Leave Usage

As a former USPS SDO, MDO, and LR Specialist for 22 years, I can tell you that the entire SL problem is due to the fact that over the past several years, mgmt has continued to promote individuals into supervisory/managerial positions that have not earned them, nor have the appropriate training/aptitude for such.

The creation and implementation of the ASP program, developed by those in the 'ivory tower' who have no clue what its like on the workroom floor, has had a significant detrimental impact on the SL program, as well as many of the other problems currently affecting the PS.

Many of your current leadership positions at large Plant and PO levels (EAS-20 and above) are filled by what are considered junior employees. The PS never accepted that its more reliable, senior employees had no incentive (pay) to step-up into supervisory/managerial positions. I know of several current MDO's, Station Mgrs and POOMs in one of the country's largest districts at the EAS-22 levels and above, that have less than 10 years of service. This is unacceptable in most cases. Many of these folks have their own disciplinary/performance issues. (I know, I drafted the discipline!)

Ultimately, until senior mgmt. makes a direct effort to ensure that the appropriate people are selected for leadership positions and LEAD BY EXAMPLE, SL will be the least of their problems.

What a BS survey!!
This article and the survey are completely twisted to generate exactly what the OIG (and at the puppet strings- the USPS) wants it to say. Separate agency, my behind!!
I can't wait to see the results of this survey twisted around by the 'experts' and used against the employees!!
Not one question on there about, "Have you been forced to use sick leave because your supervisor was following some arbitrary "no light duty" policy?" or "Have you ever been steered wrong by your supervisor and been required to use extended sick leave for an ON THE JOB injury?" or "How many times has your supervisor INCORRECTLY entered your absence as 'unscheduled' even though it was approved in advance, or they were notified in advance?"
Is this looking at Sick Leave, or Unscheduled Absences?? The article is quite off the title. No?
What a CROCK!! I'll tell you why some people don't think twice about calling in sick. . . . poor attitudes created by poor managers!
I recall my first year with the PO- a hard worker, on-time, conscientious, and helpful. I'd do anything to get the job done- skip breaks, work during lunch, whatever it took. My coworker (hired the same time as me)- a slug who complained all the time, worked as little as possible and did what he could to get out of everything. The end of our first year- I had called in 3 days when I had Strep Throat and a fever of 102. The slug got an incentive for not calling in sick- I got nothing.
I've never felt bad about calling in sick since. I don't abuse my sick leave, but I've never thought twice about using it.

If you are serious about offering an early out, then provide an incentive (buy back Sick leave). If you want people to early out pay postal workers for their sick and annual leave as an incentive. That way all ties are severed between worker and USPS. ONLY IF YOU ARE SERIOUS

What is sick leave abuse? The USPS, through bargaining, agreed to award the 4 hours of SL per pay period. SL is a benefit, just as any other. If an employee calls in and uses the SL he/she has earned there is no abuse. The USPS wants to bargain with the Union and just to avoid court cost or arbitration agrees to the SL program, with no intentions in honoring it. The employee EARNS sick leave just as the employee earns his annual leave. The Postal Service makes long range plans and take into account how much anjnual leave is historically taken by emoployees and they can do the same for SL. The USPS just wants to have its cake and eat it too. You can earn SL; you just can't use it. I'm waiting for this issue to br heard in court. Either it is a benefit or it is not. On the Management side there is less SL "abuse" because managers don't really have to use as much since once they work 4 hours they can take off and still get paid for 8 hours. How come the OIG doesn investigate that?

Hear, Hear, best post going. hvcd

I'm not sure what PO you work at but supervisors don't get to come and go as they please. In fact, I have been sick all week and yet I had to go into work every day because there is no one to take my place. I do work (and it is work) a full 8 hour day and more every day. I'm not sure where you people get your crazy ideas about supervisors, but most of them are way off base. And if supervisors ever spoke to you in the same manner, you would be running to your steward faster than a snake wanting to file a grievance. Supervisors in my office have at least a year or more of SL balances and none of us are able to use it and all of us are FERS employees.

I would like this opportunity to thank the PO and a special thanks to NRP. They informed me that I am to badly injured to do the job I've been doing for the last ten years. I now get to burn all my S/L before I retire. I was going to retire this year, but now I get to stay in a full pay status, accruing S/L, A/L, plus I get full contributions to my FERS, and TSP.

Sick Leave could be correct by simply talking to employees but there should be monetary incentive program avaialbe to award those who has thousands of hours saved and never call in sick. FERS has added to the problem when there's no incentive to save your sick leave, now that may be changed soon as soon as the bill is approved by the Senate. FMLA is another big problem. It is a great program for all level of employees but the craft employees don't see it as a great program, they only see it as a way out.

Yes, I can tell. Especially by all the PO employees abusing every single thing they can from the government! My husband has been at his job for over 15 years and they DO NOT have any sick leave. However, they have a great workforce and great pay. He has not taken one sick day in 15 years. As for the 1800's, I am pretty sure they didn't have Sick Leave, Vacation, Health Insurance, Dental Insurance, Disablility Insurance, Someone Looks at me Wrong Insurance...etc...etc...etc... It is a wonder why the US economy is in the toilet! Give me, Give me, Give me, because "I" deserve it. This is the mentality of what USED to be the United States of America! Pretty sad, actually..

Most of us that work for the PO did not bargain for the benefits. They were GIVEN to us when we hired in. Were we supposed to say "If I come to work for you, I won't need that S/L"? I don't disagree with the entitlement mentality that you speak of, but this isn't it.

I am a postal employee working in an office with four assigned clerks. One of those clerks actual comes into work no more than 3 day each week. This has been going on for over 5 years. Myself and my two other coworkers must continuously pick up for this lame duck. Management no longer assigns any projects or tasks to this absent clerk because the work would never get done...not here to do it. The stress and hard feelings are directed justifiably to the absent liability and not to our supervisor who has tried and failed at least three times to have this person removed only to be thwarted by deals between HR/LR & APWU. Those of us who do show up and do our jobs earn the SL while others just cruise but get the same benefits with no work. This absent employee is a business loss and, if the money lost due to wasted investment in employees who don't honor the employment contract were recovered or saved, perhaps the Postal Service would realize a bit improved financial outlook.

That is the way of the PO. Punish all for the sins of the few. If management wanted to bad enough, they could do something about this case on an individual basis and not by punishing all.

We have a guy made a 204b before he was career 1 year. This guy can't get out of the office fast enough getting someone else to cover for him just about every weekend so he can take off early. On the phone joking all day, talking to the wife & kids, and let's not forget those nice long lunch breaks or the standing around visiting with the clerks all day. Can't wait to run & tell if someone makes a mistake. Rather than talk to that person he 'tattles' in the middle of the floor in front of the entire office. Supervisor thinks he's wonderful. If he only knew. No one will tell him different because they know the repercussions.

Tell the Station Managers to stop treating employees who call in once a year the same as they treat the employees who calls in 10 times a year. I have a supervisor who made me bring a doctor's release in before they would pay me for calling in one time in a year. They also verbally counsled me about the same incident before the quarter was up. It was almost as if they were trying to intimidate me. All this tells me is that the next time I call in sick I'll be going for broke and taking a few days off.

Maybe if the USPS buy the employees they sick leave,
in excess after 600 hours minimun of 80 hours a year, that mean they will need over 680 hours, they will try to save it. Anyway the going to use it. because
there no incentive to save it.

This is very interesting, but I need more data. The Postal Service includes very physical labor that can be taxing in all weather conditions. Comparing its sick leave usage to, for example, a Budget Analyst at the State Department seems ridiculous.

I don't think you can jump to any conclusions without better data and improved benchmarking. For example, what is the sick leave usage for organizations with similar work activities as USPS? What is the sick leave usage at foreign posts? Within USPS, does sick leave usage vary by work activity - clerks, carriers, Postmasters, office workers? Does it vary geographically - area, district, plant, etc.? Historically, I believe USPS managers were rated on SL usage and it has, therefore, been monitored very closely. This differs from - say - a standard federal office job where managers stereotypically let a lot go.

Bottom line - such simple, broad statistics can be misleading, but in this case, they do demand greater analysis and investigation.

Combine sick and annual leave allowances together for a single leave balance. Call it 'LEAVE'. Let the balance accrue with no limit. In other words, it's just like your paycheck. It's the employee's choice how to use it.
Each employee receives the combined total of sick and annual leave under the current system. The Postal Service should decide how many unscheduled occurences an employee is allowed per year. Current rules for FMLA should still apply.
ALL EMPLOYEES NATIONWIDE.
Not the current system that varies per employee, per office, per supervisor discretion, etcetera, etcetera.
This is EARNED leave. Just like our paychecks are EARNED. Postal Management should not decide what is an acceptable reason for leave usage. If it is an FMLA approved condition, it's acceptable. Any other reason is an unscheduled absence.
Other companies have adopted similar systems, and it works fine.

Bob is right on the mark about the ASP program. In any other work environment, you have to prove yourself capable and knowledgable before you get a promotion. With the Postal Service, you can get into the ASP program right after you finish your probation. For all the knowledge and experience the ASPs bring to the job, you might as well hire supervisors from the nearest homeless shelter. Because the ASPs and their fellow travelers do not REALLY know what it takes to do the job, they contribute to the toxic work environment and high sick leave usage. We need a work environemnt where all people are treated with respect, not harassed; then maybe capable employees will step up to managerial positions - I know, I am living in a fantasy worl.

I had brain surgery 1 and 1/2 years ago, 7 weeks off, FMLA approved, but a month or two after coming back to work, new postmaster had to have a talk with me because someone up the line of management wanted to know why I had been regular for 10 years and didn't have much sick leave. one hand not knowing what the other is doing? hmmmm.

FMLA is the problem and if employees cannot maintain a certain amount of hours then they should strip the right of earning 4 hours per pay period to 2 hours.
This will give them an incentive to get up and go to work or quit.
Fair is fair, we want to blame management for all our problems. It is what it is, an employee abusing their benefits and when they really need them they want donated annual leave.

Just some observations. I just completed my 25th year at USPS. Here are a few things that were passed along to me by some of the old timers when I was hired.

1) If you really, really need to have a certain day off, it is best to keep it to yourself and report off sick. Management routinely simply denies requested Annual Leave, Needed as Scheduled, rather than take any time at all to determine if the request could possibly be granted.

2) One clerk, still here, does use sick leave probably more than he should, however, someone did mention treating the person that calls off one day a year in the same manner as one that calls off 10 times. Anyway, this clerks premise about being called in for a "talk" about sick leave is that he earns 104 hours, 13 days, each year. Tehre is no reason to bother any person about SL usage until they call off on that 14th day. Kind of makes sense. He is a CSRS person.

3) YES, YES, YES. Provide the same incentive to accrue SL for FERS as there is for CSRS. I also currently have a low balance of SL as compared to my years of service. Why carry a huge balance to lose at retirement or, figure out how to use it for FERS Flu at the end of my career? I carry a balance right around 650 hours. Enough for 4 months. I figure that will cover me for some major illness or injury.

I also started using SL for medical appointments instead of AL, years ago. I guess you could say that I have a plan. Out of the 13 days I earn each year, at least 6 are used for appts with the VA. That still leaves 7 for anything else.

Let me have credit for unused sick leave towards mt annuity, as it si for CSRS, or cut a check for my balance when I retire. Otherwise, you think that this Swine Flu is bad, I will have a really bad extended case of FERS Flu in about 5 years.

Sick leave abusers start out with bad attendance. When I was a 3204-b I could always predict who would have a accident- the people with these implausible excuses for missing work. Watch for patterns of abuse and issue discipline where required.

In the civilian world if you call in more than twice, they put you on notice. If you are late, more than twice, they terminate you. The postal service has been too leanient when it comes to sick leave. You many disabled veterans who work harder than those that abuse the sick leave program. The postal service should credit the leave to your retirement our allow you to sell it back before you retire. You should also get a bonus at the end of the year for not using any sick leave the whole year.

As an employee for well over 30 years I have seen a lot of changes in the USPS. This is not something that is new and not something that is going to change until the USPS comes up with a fair way of rewarding personnel for wise use of S/L.
I feel that I have dedicated a large portion of my life to the USPS only to have them want more from me without compensating for it. I am a non-exempt EAS and have been forced to work Saturdays for the past 7 years, as overtime, but have not gained one minute of annual or sick leave for this time. My actual earnings from this are naturally much higher than my salary. As of right now if actual "High 3" was to be used for retirement figures it would give $3100 a year in my annuity. But that isn't going to happen either. If I were to live another 20 years that is $60000 that I have given back to the USPS.
The best way that the USPS can make us want to hold onto S/L is to compensate us upon retirement, not at full pay, as it was not all earned at my current rate, but at 50% or better. If we were to use up every minute of annual leave they would be the happiest orginization on earth. Ever hear of Annual Leave abuse? Noooooo! There isn't one PCES or high grade EAS employee retiring without their full carryover amount of annual leave. Why is it that I earn annual leave at twice the rate of sick leave and if I use it all up I am not considered an abuser? Same scenario applies: someone has to replace me at twice the cost, same as sick leave. We need to put an end to the double standard for leave types. Both are earned and both are there for the employee.
A few years back an email was sent out in our district that broke down sick leave use by function. Guess where the highest percentage was by almost double? Our GMF! Never again saw this email and I don't know if I ever heard of this employee again. These are the brains of our orginization and they know that you "use it or lose it". Finance person told me that if you have a year of S/L and retire it will take 35 or more years to come out ahead. If I live past 93 I am going to be very mad at myself for using up my S/L.
I want to say that I am thankful that I work for the USPS for the many things that they have provided for in my career. They have provided well for my family.
As I can see retirement in the not too distant future I want to get out feeling good and if that means having surgeries to fix problems that are at least partly related to my work that I should not be considered an abuser. Why should I have to wait to retirement to get it done? At that time my premiums are higher and probably co-pays also. Of course, if USPS were to cut me a check for the unused balance I might put it off.
If USPS is serious about reducing their number of employees they could offer to compensate retire eligible as well as VERA for unused S/L. Bet they would see many more jump on the wagon then.

With the possibility of a pandemic of Swine Flu, the President, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the World Health Organization have issued specific instructions: If you have a cough, fever, aches and pains and suspect you have been in the midst of someone possibly infected with the Swine Flu virus, STAY HOME!!!!! repeat STAY HOME!!!!!!! My question is how is the PO going to handle this? Especially when we are already working in sick buildings and an unhealthy work environment by insisting that you come to work even if you are sick. If you stay home is this considered Unscheduled Sick Leave and grounds for a LOW?

How many people do you have in your office who are about to retire, use most of, if not all of their sick leave right before they retire? Are any of them on sick leave when they retire? How does this factor in the overall equation of abusive sick call? Does this have a negative impact on those who are still working when they take a day off because they are ill? I have a person in my office, who is about to retire who has been on sick leave since December. This person frequently visits the Office to update their paperwork and have a friendly chat with management. They don't appear to be sick at all. Sick leave abuse????

I like this solution. This one is a keeper. Hope someone is paying attention because all talk and no action leaves us with this problem that has been a pain-in-the-butt for years!

With the VERA last year and retirees facing losing all their sick leave, every single one I know has burned up their sick leave before they retired. That is why your sick leave is so high last year - VERA coupled with potential lost sick leave = use it or lose it.

I agree. All the talk and blogging in the world will not solve the problem of harassment over taking legitimate sick leave. It is not until a coalition is created with all post office employees pulling together, writing their state congressmen and congresswomen, state senators and eventually have an audience with the government officials. This is how policies are changed and law is created. I believe that all employees deserve to be heard by those they placed in office.

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