The Status of NRP

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(This article appeared in the September/October 2011 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Sue Carney, Director Human Relations Dept.

Recently a Postal Service official confirmed that as of December 2010 all reassessments were completed. As a result, the National Reassessment Process protocols are no longer being used. APWU was advised that official union notification has been delayed until authorization is granted by the USPS Legal Department and Labor Relations.

Despite the declaration, we continue to receive numerous calls regarding work-hour withdrawals and recurrence claims — an indication that there is little call for celebration and continued cause for concern. Compounding suspicions that NRP has been eliminated in name only is a USPS field document that says existing limited- duty assignments will continue to be altered; asserts that revised NRP documents will be used prospectively, and specifies the agency will continue to rely upon the Electronic Search System to document its search efforts.

Smoke and Mirrors

It seems this has all been orchestrated to shield the USPS from receiving additional backlash as a result of NRP. The Postal Service has not fared well before MSPB or in the grievance-arbitration process, and it is still facing the possibility of paying a mammoth settlement to EEO complainants. The inability to meet daily obligations, extraordinary congressional investigations, and negative press has brought objections from frontline supervisors as well as OWCP. Reassessment has cost an exorbitant amount of money — so extreme the Postal Service has refused to disclose the figure. After examining these facts, it is easy to see why the USPS would want to create the illusion that these programs have ended. The Postal Service may claim to have done away with NRP and its protocols but the reality is we have seen little evidence to show that it has revised its objectives or its return-to-work policies regarding injured workers.

The Rules Have Not Changed

Employers have the same obligations with or without an NRP. For example, employers must provide workers with CA forms, submit completed forms timely to OWCP, and provide copies to employees. Most injured workers are protected by the Rehabilitation Act. This requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to enable disabled workers to perform a job. When an employee is capable of working their bid with or without accommodation, this is not considered a modified assignment (EL-505 -Chapter 7). When this is not possible, the employer must make every effort to find medically suitable work in accordance with ELM 546 - which requires searches be conducted in all crafts, hours, and in our opinion all facilities — not just those within the commuting area. When there is "no work available" or an employee is offered fewer hours than they are capable of working, daily searches should be conducted. In the interim, these employees should request Form SF-8 to file for unemployment benefits.Eligibility varies by state. The union should never accept a worksheet or information contained in the Electronic Search Program as accurate. All postal officials involved in job searches should be interviewed, daily if necessary, to establish whether the Postal Service met its obligation.

Job offers should be made in compliance with ELM 545.32 and should include at least four hours of work when employees are capable of working four or more hours. Any changes to an accepted offer make it a new offer. All job offers, accepted or refused, must be submitted to OWCP. Any withdrawal of work renders the job offer temporary and serves as an excellent argument to modify previous Wage Earning Capacity determinations (AJ. v. USPS; ECAB 10-6190 6/29/2010).

When work is not afforded or when OWCP benefits are denied, injured employees should always seek guidance from their union representatives and pursue all avenues of justice including the grievance-arbitration process, MSPB appeals, EEO complaints, OWCP's Branch of Hearings and Review and ECAB.

(A July 1, 2011 memorandum from the USPS Vice President for Employee Resource Management to Area Vice Presidents further confirms the conclusion of NRP.)

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