The U.S. Postal Service has an obligation to ensure the safety of its employees by creating and maintaining a violence-free work environment. Workplace violence can occur at or outside of a postal facility while an employee is working and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicides.
Postal Service employees who have been assaulted can notify their manager, file a formal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint or grievance with the Postal Service, notify internal law enforcement organizations [(U.S. Postal Inspection Service or the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG)] or contact the local police.
The Postal Inspection Service investigates assaults and threats against employees, while the OIG investigates allegations of hostile work environment and sexual harassment. Either can pursue criminal charges or refer the case to the Postal Service for further action. The Postal Service administers administrative action, such as letters of warning, suspensions, or removals as appropriate.
The Postal Service established the Workplace Environment Tracking System (tracking system) as its national repository for workplace environment incidents to analyze data, identify trends and develop preventive measures. On July 8, 2013, the Postal Service issued a memorandum instructing all headquarters, area, and district offices to use its tracking system when managing workplace violence cases starting August 1, 2013.
In addition, threat assessment teams are required in each district to respond to and assess violent situations; and advise employees on what to do in the event they witness or are victims of violent behavior. The Postal Service requires facilities to display workplace violence posters and publications in postal facilities.
On March 13, 2015, the Postal Service responded to a congressional inquiry by describing the measures it takes to prevent sexual assault and harassment of its employees. In addition, Congress requested the number of sexual assaults and outcomes reported by Postal Service employees for 2013 and 2014.
Subsequent to the Postal Service’s response, members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested that we review the Postal Service’s workplace violence program and validate the Postal Service’s March 2015 response.
Our objectives were to evaluate whether the Postal Service adequately identified, reviewed, reported, and addressed employee assaults; and to validate the Postal Service’s response to Congress. Our audit covers workplace violence incidents that occurred from September 1, 2013, through September 2, 2015, a period during which the Postal Inspection Service recorded 789 workplace violence cases nationwide.
What the OIG Found
The Postal Service has a comprehensive workplace violence program to identify, review, report, and address employee assaults nationwide. The Postal Service and Postal Inspection Service appropriately addressed all workplace violence cases in the six selected districts reviewed. In these districts, the Postal Inspection Service investigated 145 cases, 60 of which involved Postal Service employees as assailants. The Postal Service imposed administrative actions, including suspensions and notices of removal, in all 60 cases, as required.
However opportunities exist to enhance the workplace violence program. Specifically, Postal Service officials did not always record all incidents of workplace violence in the tracking system, effectively use threat teams to review assault outcomes and develop preventive measures, and display all workplace violence posters and publications used to educate employees on identifying and reporting workplace violence incidents in postal facilities.
These and other issues occurred in the six districts we reviewed because:
- District Human Resources managers responsible for maintaining the tracking system database did not ensure responsible officials entered assault complaints into the tracking system as required. In addition, the policy does not give specific instructions regarding the deadline for doing so.
- There were no controls to ensure that threat assessment team activities were completed, including required training.
- Facility managers were not fully aware of the requirements to display workplace violence posters and were not required to check periodically that all workplace violence posters were displayed.
The Postal Service was responsive to Congress by providing information regarding how they prevent and respond to workplace violence incidents in reporting 68 employee sexual assaults that resulted in EEO complaints. However, all sexual assaults do not result in EEO complaints. As such, the Postal Service did not report 10 sexual assault cases investigated by the Postal Inspection Service for the period October 1, 2012, through December 1, 2014. Although the Postal Service qualified its response as pertaining only to EEO complaints, the inclusion of related Postal Inspection Service cases would have provided a more complete response.
Further, the Postal Service could not rely on the tracking system as a central repository for sexual assault data because officials were not always recording the data in the tracking system, as required. To gather complete data for its response to Congress, the Postal Service should have reviewed the tracking system, EEO complaints, and Postal Inspection Service cases.
As a result of these conditions, there is an increased risk the Postal Service will not effectively analyze data and identify trends to address workplace violence incidents. Furthermore, without a single accurate source of data in this critical area of employee safety, it is more difficult to determine where problems exist and develop preventive measures.
What the OIG Recommended
We recommended management establish additional controls to ensure that responsible officials enter workplace violence cases into the tracking system; and that threat assessment teams comply with established guidelines, ensure personnel are adequately trained on the tracking system and threat assessment team responsibilities, and conduct periodic reviews to ensure all required posters and publications are displayed.