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.


Add new comment

How is extended sick leave for off-duty injuries/illness, such as a broken leg or a major surgery, factored into the private sector to postal sector analysis? Most private sector organization provide short-term disability coverage for employee's off-duty injuries/illnesses. Without input about short-term disability absences in the private sector, the comparison is moot. Or, provide a breakdown of postal sick leave usage of 40-consecutive hours or less versus more than 40-consecutive hours.

Sick leave use/abuse is not a new topic. It has been a constant source of discussion, but never resolved. Granted FERS and the disincentive to save SL is a problem. Also, Managment just gets used to people calling-in sick with the real or imagined illness and charge it off as a cost of doing business. If fact, as volume declines, people not coming to work may be of benefit. Supervisors and managers at the field level don't see the specific cost of SL usage. It is lost deep in the financial reports, so $$$ awareness is an issue. Those supv/mgrs who have been around awhile know the drill...crack down on SL...next month OT...the next month LWOP...and, oh yea, service. They know discipline for SL gets settled downstream (so why bother) and Labor Relations has gotten out of the discipline control business.
So, what's the solution? There needs to be an incentive for employees not using SL. Whether it is an annual buy out at a reduced price offset by some form of long-term disability coverage or combine AL/SL into a merged personal leave (but the later would have to "booked" in the financal reports like AL is booked now). (SL is not booked, as it is not a liability). (Side note here, when making the comparisons with private industry, remember, they either don't normally have a separate SL program or the earning rate for SL is not even close to the 104 hours per year).
We have learned throughout the years that cracking down on SL using the stick doesn't work in the long run. Under CSRS, we were able to slow the rate as employees had an incentive to save. Today, a similar incentive has to be developed that has a cost benefit as it looks like employees are approaching a national ratio of 5.2% which is using SL as it is earned (104 hours/2000 hours).

Good luck with this one. Many have tried to solve it and no one has been successful

Well stated:

The best way to decrease the use of sick leave (FERS FLU) is to provide some kind of tangible benefit to it. I have submitted the following as an EIdea several times.

Set a base number of hours. Say that base is 1000 hours. To build up to this base you will need about 10 years of good attendance/health. Each year the postal service buys back every hour over the base at 50 cents on the dollar. This is determined at the last pay-period of November. The first pay-period of December a separate check is cut and sent to the office of employment. As an example, say an employee is earning $25.00 per hour and has 1100 hours at the last pay-period in November. The 100 hours over base would be paid at 50 cents on the dollar. In dollar terms, that employee has earned a check of $1,250.00. This would be a good annual reminder that good health and attendance is valuable both tangibly as well as intangibly. Then at a standup management is required to give these checks out as a Christmas/holiday bonus. This would be an annual reminder, in a tangible way, that there is value to being healthy and having good attendance.

This will be an annual reminder that good health and attendance is valuable, now and should you need to be cover for a serious accident or health event. The 1000 hours equates to about six months of time off should it be needed.


Regardless of what the postal service says about mail volume being down. They are piling more and more mail on their employees. This can not be done without there being more repetive injuries to the employees.

The demographics and type of work may be responsible. Look at the median age of USPS employees. Plus, letter carrier and other USPS work is more physical than most fed jobs.

Incentive to not use sick leave is the answer ,
since when does the USPS do the right thing.

I'm trying to understand what's being said. There arer a lot of "%"s being thrown around in the article. If I've learned anything, it's that statistics can be made to say anything you want them to.

Here is my question: Is the postal worker taking more than his/her alloted sick leave? I know that using sick leave for other purposes other than illness is not allowed. However, I take a bit of an exception to the agency (and government) deciding what a fair amount of hours of sick time is and then fretting about the fact that it's being used. If there were solid, tangible indicators that a particular person was misusing his/her sick leave, that person should be gone after...but to talk in generalities about a "problem" that may not even exist (because the amount of sick time estimated by the 'bosses' is about the amount of sick time needed) seems a bit counter-productive to me.

The Postal Service has WAY too many REAL and PRESSING problems right now than to be searching out possible ones.

Retired, but aware did an excellent job summing it up above. I am a FERS employee and have been a supervisor for many years. I have a high balance because I would feel guilty calling in often and forcing someone else to cover my area. But how can you give someone a benifit and then tell them not to use it? I get sick enough to call in maybe once a year. But do you think I like the idea of just watching all that accumulated sick leave disappear when I retire? The only way to cut back on usage is to provide an incentive for saving it.


And I just learned this little bit. Let's say you have an illness where you don't know when you will return, but you will try the next day. Now, if you call in and say I'll be out for three days, that's counted as 1 call. If you call in for those three days individually, because you want to come in if you feel better tomorrow, then that counts as 3 calls. The second scenario carries more negatively on the employee.

It sure does feel like you are earning sick leave, but it is supposedly not for use. Almost like it's there just for the PO to say they gave you this benefit. And now with not bringing in carriers on overtime, and pivoting out routes...seems like there is more wear and tear on the body, which in not a machine!

unless and until you treat management the same as craft workers you will ALWAYS have craft using sick leave. management uses sick leave with NO consequences. fix that and then ask us for our opinion.

When someone retires, pay them the full amount of the sick leave.


2000 hours of sick leave when I retire.

If I'm making 26.00 a hour. Then when I retire, the USPS pays me $52.000 for the sick leave I didn't use.

When some one calls in sick, it probably cost the USPS more than that they would pay you for the sick leave.

What good will that do? The USPS is STILL going to have to pay twice one way or the other.

When someone calls in sick, they have to replace you with another carrier, even if it's with a carrier on staight time it still cost them at least 160-200 dollars. You're right, but either way it will cost them.

As the guy from the Fram motor oil commercial would say, pay me now, or pay me later.

There must be a change contractual to allow swift action to be taken against abusers of the system. Good for one quarter then back to the old games to avoid discipline. Maybe not paying for the first day out would curb some calls. Replacing abusers costs overtime and is not good for morale when people that come to work to do their job are now saddled with someone elses workload. Crediting time towards retirement would benefit both parties. Sick leave would not be paid at a higher dollar amount than when it was earned, and people would not feel the need to burn it before leaving.


First off come up with a Nationwide standard. Every facility has it's own formula for attendance discipline, that's absurd !
Secondly, if the Service has a problem with sick leave use/abuse come to the bargaining table with it, don't try to change horses mid stream.
Finally, treat your employees as Allies not Enemys !

take these things into consideration:

1. Supervisors themselves burning up years of sick leave. Check MLS P&DC to see how many supervisors did this in the past 12 months.

2. Supervisors won't grant employees temporary light duty anymore. So if you need a couple weeks in manual cases to rest your sprained wrist, they say no and send you home on sick leave. This is forced sick leave that the person didn't want to take.

3. Mgmt sending injured on duty people home for good. Before turning them over to the Dept of labor, the people are told they can use up all their leave, including sick leave. These people did not want to be sent home. This is forced sick leave too.

4. Physical work, graveyard shift, an aging workforce.

5. Check out MLS P&DC and see how many cancer incidents we have had. When you have breast, prostate, brain cancers, you have to use sick leave. We have asked the question, is our site a cancer cluster site. No one pays any attention. Our original postmaster MLS (Margaret Sellers) herself, died of brain tumors.

6. For abusers, Mgmt can do RSL letters. Then progressive discipline, if done correctly, can cull out people. But mgmt needs training to do it right, and they never learn proper procedure. Thank God.

I think the problem with the Post Office is the constant abuse from supervision towards craft employees does make employees "sick" and they call in because of the stress. Stress does cause medical problems. The Post Office is a hostile work environment and when the OIG starts taking complaints seriously, changes can be made. The Post Office should be the model employer in the United States.

If the stress is too much.....

Why should I be forced to give up 20 years of seniority because of bad supervisors who are allowed to be abusive? The abuse is condoned by upper management also. Instead I choose to stay not only for the benefits and retirement, but to continue the fight to make change.

call in sick and go to doctor for work related stress

A common pratice in the private sector is a three day waiting period. It is like a deductable. The first 3 days the employee takes the loss. After the 3 days the sick leave kicks in. Sick leave is looked at as something more long term or an accident. It gives the employee incentive not to take the day after a light night off sick. Sick leave is like insurance. Cover the major issues and let the employee take care of the occasional day here and there. There is no incentive not to mis use it with the current system.

I haven't taken sick leave in over 7 years because of the guilt thing. I like being counted on and accountable. Of course we all get a little sick once or twice a year, but we all have different defintions as to what warrants calling in sick. I also didnt miss many school days growing up. I agree, if the postal service gave something back to people who didnt use it, they would get less abuse. People say,"iearned it, I am using it" because you lose it if you dont. I find a lot of people take it for when their kids are sick and they dont have a sitter.

I have a much better idea. Take away the sick leave and see how many people call in "sick". SL is NOT a guaranteed vacation! This is exactly what a lot of employees think. I say take it away or limit to 2-3days a year. I have seen a lot of SL abuse where I work and it is pathetic! The Postmaster knows it is going on, but there isn't anything he can do about it when the "sick" employee comes in with a note from the doctor. Many doctors will put anything you want on a sick leave slip for you....Quit whinning and get to work!

I guess you never get sick.

This one is spoken from a true asinine supervisor. Good for you.

I 'used' to feel that way. After always being available and doing everything for the PO that I was asked and more and seeing the things I've seen the favoritism, hostile and abusive management, and other ways that management rewards employees, no more. If I'm sick I'm sick and no guilt whatsoever.

Sick leave is a benefit that you earn so why not use it! Why should you feel guilty? You are probably one of those employees that are always tattyling on others and constantly talk to others behind every ones back as well..We know who you are! You probably come to work when you have the flu and get every one else sick as well don't you!

Sick leave usage has always been an issue. It higher in the Plants, primarily tour one and tour three. It's too easy to use, just call in and it's approved. There's no accountability, no consequence for abuse. It has nothing to do with being FERS, these people are using it early in their careers. If they used it just before retirement, then I would buy it. I think one way of reducing sick leave is to not allow it as long as overtime is earned in the same pay period. Any leave type should be reduced by the amount of overtime earned during the pay period, charge the OT as straight time, and reduce the leave, sick leave first, then annual. To pay leave and OT in the same pay period is borderline stealing. My brother-in-law drives for UPS, no sick leave, call in and don't get paid. And they're represented by the Teamsters. It's time to take a hard stand on sick leave abuse, make it easier to fire someone, you'll see leave usage reduce real quick.

If the OIG really cared about helping the Postal Service in reducing sick leave they would allow agents to work sick leave abuse cases. Cases such as employees calling in sick to work a second job, altering medical documentation to extend the time off the physican allowed, or just plain old making it up on their PC to name a few. The fact they do not think these cases are worthwhile is evident in they are rated as catagory three cases. Catagory three is the lowest catagory. Only a very very small percentage of employees stoop this low to steal from their employer. Testimonies on how saving sick leave saved some ones home does not work on these employees. I have seen it for over 30 years. You either understand that sick leave is a benifit for when you are ill or you don't. Most have never seen the warning on the bottom of the 3971 that clearly states it is a violation of law to provide false information on the form. Yes, calling in sick when you are not is a violation of the law. It's called making a false statement. Can't wait to see the replies.

One Question? If Congress OK's Credit for Unused Sick leave for all FERS Employees towards their Retirement, recognizing that this Act will allow FERS employees to finally be equal to CSRS employees. What happens to all FERS Employees that already retired. Sounds like Congress should consider Discrimination because of this injustice. What do you think OIG?

My Shoulder hurts from carrying mail for 30 years...My knees are giving out, especially when a new cold front comes through..My back says hello each time I lift a crate full of mail..My neck requires chiropractic care because the weight of the bag on one shoulder causes my neck to pinch...FMLA has become a hassle for my doctor and myself to fill out, so the easiest answer is call in sick..The young employees have children who are sick, but thats family leave which is observed in every other federal agency but the Post Office, they get disciplined for using sick leave...There maybe some abuse of sick leave but a lot of it is used for bodys worn out...

We are an aging work force. Long ago I could make through work when I wasn't feeling 100 percent. But now if I'm feeling sick I call in. The body isn't what it use to be.

You answered your own question at the beginning of the article: "Career employees earn 4 hours of sick leave for a full pay period (80 hours), or at a rate of 5 percent."

Their is no incentive for FERS employees to save their sick leave, except for the obvious "insurance" incentive. It is a simple matter of dollars and cents- if I don't use my sick leave, I lose it. It's not a matter of right or wrong, abuse or irresponsibility- it is an economic decision that people will make based on what is best for each individual.

You can either stop offering the sick leave if you don't want it to be used (and, in a collective bargaining environment, that means you need to give up something in return), or provide an incentive to prevent its use.

This isn't rocket science- if you don't intend for people to use a benefit, either stop offering the benefit, or give them an incentive to not use it. Stop wasting time and money searching for "solutions" to make believe problems!

USPS should provide incentives for its employees to not use sick leave...and when you retire you should be able to cash that unused sick leave in.

I personaly had over 600+ hour's in 2008 and due too and on the job accupational healh injury which was w.p.c.a approve, I was force by management to used my sick leave, for almost four month's I stay home recovering from my injuries, twise managemnt deny my request to get back to work which extended my used off my sick time, I could had deliverd express mail, due collection pick ups, help customers coming to pick up accountable pieces os mail and packages,and maybe more, the point is after i recover suficiently I was deny the apportunity to continue saving my sick leave and to work temporaly limited duty. which I am sure is being counted as sick time usaged abuse by the postal service...

After 30 years of service it's like this;The PO has a bad bussiness plan, It is way too over bloated with manamment personell. When they waste billions & billions of $'s, cut the workforce while adding to the white collar ranks, morale is shot. There is no reason to keep tightening our belts, working more deliveries with fewer people & work when were sick, as the PO brass stear us towrds the icebergs. My sick leave, if I am sick, I will not be there. If the office is shorthanded, then put a bag on a supervisor & see if they can live up to their expectations.

Pass the bill in the Senate to give FERS employees credit towards retirement for sick leave.This would be an incentive not to burn up the sick leave for seniors.How many health problems seniors have is almost laughable.Use it or lose it is the system seniors have now.

provide incentive for saving sick leave. pay up to 100% on retirement. i have over 2000 hours and no reason not to use them.



Reward the employees who don't abuse their sick leave more than you reward the abusers. Until you do that you will have abuse. The abusers are getting 100% of their pay when they use sick leave for doing no work. Those of us who have thousands of hours of SL accumulated are being punished for being dedicated employees. We are punished by not recieving the pay and then by doing twice the work when the others call in sick. Management cannot stem this tide. The current system will always have abuse within this senerio. Less Work / Same Pay OR Twice the Work / Same Pay. Which would you choose?

It feel good to take a few extra days in conjunction with your non-scheduled days,I call it a mini vacation.

I suppose you think you have the "right" to abuse your SL?!

as a person doesnt use sl that often and then got low for 3 un abs it gets very old watching the abuse of fmla is a joke.was a good program but now very abused and broken system.we got people who dont use it until summer hits.

I have been in the Postal Service for 30 years and have been supervising for the past 24 years. If the OIG takes a good look at the sick leave abuse they will see that it started when FMLA Law was created. Problem is, The administration of FMLA is being managed by individuals that have no medical background. Further the FMLA law allows for anything as long as it follows the criteria outline in the law. If an employee gets an accepted FMLA case number they feel that it entitles them to use 480 hrs of sick leave whether it is for the reason they originally got the FMLA for or not, Employees are using it for a colds, or if they are just tired and don't want to work and supervisors are afraid to challenge the use in fear that they will get sued. FMLA coordinators are telling supervisors to let them use the 480 then start addressing them on their abuse. You want to fix the sick leave abuse get rid of FMLA, reward those who don't abuse the leave and punish those that abuse the leave. But most of all we need to be consistant.

Maybe you are a good sup.,but since we have bad ones
that doesn't care about they employees with real
conditions, FMLA IS THERE TO PROTECT THEM. And unfortunally other will benefit from that.


To use the Bureau of Labor Statistics' raw number is very misleading. There are many reasons why postal sick leave is high.

First, you have an aging work force. The older you get, the more medical problems you have. Also, most postal jobs are physically demanding. This puts more wear and tear on the body and someimes, your days off does not allow enough recuperation time.

Next, the Office of Personnel Management has shown that FERS employees use more sick leave as they approach retirement then CSRS employees because FERS employees do not get credit for their annuity as CSRS employees do.

Also, I know of many managerial employees who retire and use up their sick leave. If the OIG would do their job and try to show a correlation between retirement date and sick leave usage, they may be able to recover money for the postal service, and by their example put an end to this abusive practice.

Last, I know of some employees who have had surgery and would like to come back to work in a limited capacity, but management will not let them. If the goal is reduce sick leave, then there should be a more liberal policy toward light duty employees -rather then paying an employee to stay home, the Postal Service will be getting some work out of them.

simple - use it or lose it. also for many years now, no ptfs were hired, just casuals and te's. because of that, now the regular work force is old. 80% at our office are over 50 yrs old. (high sick leave usage) Hire young people.

The reason the sick leave rates are high is directly attributed to USPS's policy that leave can not be taken in increments smaller than one's scheduled duty day. Stupid, Stupid, Stuck in 1800's Stupid.

I earned it, I take it! But it is still STUPID to take 8 hours leave for a one-hour dental appointment.

Big Dawg