USPS Reassessment Process Background

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The Postal Service aggressively monitors limited duty and rehabilitation assignments, and in May, 2005 notified the APWU that the USPS would begin a reassessment of rehabilitation jobs and limited duty assignments. The third pilot of the “Reassessment Process” (previously called “Outplacement”) was recently conducted in the USPS Western New York District.

The first pilot was conducted in two Districts of the NY Metro Area. No APWU craft members were impacted as a result of this initial pilot. The second pilot has been conducted in three installations in the San Diego District where approximately 30 APWU craft employees have been told that there is no medically suitable work available for them, and they have been referred to OWCP. We anticipate that these employees will be placed in OWCP’s vocational rehabilitation program in an effort to find them work in the private sector. The Postal Service insists that this reassessment process is necessary since there are a declining number of jobs available for injured employees, especially for those who have substantial medical limitations. After the completion of the Western NY pilot the Postal Service expects that the “Reassessment Process” will be expanded nationwide. They estimate that this will occur in mid to late May.

We are closely monitoring each phase of this USPS program. APWU local and state officers are asked to continue to keep the national office informed about the manner in which this reassessment process is being implemented in their locals. We are particularly concerned that managers and supervisors are not making good faith efforts to find medically suitable employment as required by chapter 546 of the ELM. We are also concerned that seniority rights might be ignored when injured employees are reassigned.

The Postal Service insists that their reassessment process they will not violate any contractual language, and that they will act in compliance with handbook and/or manual language (ELM 540, EL 505, “Injury Compensation”) and with federal regulations (20 CFR Parts 10 and 25, “Claims for Compensation Under the FECA,” and 5 CFR 353, “Restoration to Duty from… Compensable Injuries”). Additionally, they state that each reassessment will be done on an individual basis according to the specific fact circumstance of each case.

The USPS also told us that they would like all rehab jobs to consist of “necessary” work, for which there is an operational need. This position is inconsistent with the one which they advanced in a national arbitration case in 2002. We would expect that at some point this inconsistency will become an issue between the APWU and the Postal Service. In the referenced arbitration case (Das, E90-C- 4E C 95076238) the Postal Service argued that:

Creation of duty assignments is based on management’s operational needs. The present [rehabilitation] assignment, in contrast, was only created because of the Postal Service’s legal, contractual and regulatory obligation to reassign or reemploy an employee who is injured on the job. This assignment did not exist before the employee was injured and otherwise would not have been created by management, because no need for an Article 37 duty assignment existed… [and] When the injured employee vacates the assignment, it will no longer exist.

Arbitrator Das was persuaded by the Postal Service’s argument and in his findings stated that:

The [rehabilitation] assignment in question consists of a number of clerk duties — a subset of duties included in the standard position description of General Clerk. That does not detract from the fact that it is uniquely created as a rehabilitation assignment. As the Postal Service stresses, this assignment would not have existed, but for the obligation to find work for the injured employee… The rehabilitation assignment in question was not created to meet the operational needs of the Postal Service.

The steps in the “Reassessment Process” have been described by the Postal Service as follows:

  1. All light duty jobs will first be reviewed to determine their extent and nature. The Postal Service has stated that limited duty and rehab jobs will take priority over light duty jobs. This is a possible area of contractual dispute. At this point the Human Relations Department has not received any word of light duty/limited duty conflicts.
  2. Limited duty jobs will be reviewed to determine if current medical documentation establishes that the employee has reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). If so, that employee will enter the Postal Service rehab job process. If an employee has recently provided appropriate, updated medical information, additionally documentation should not be necessary. The USPS should not be making blanket requests to update medical documentation. All rehab jobs will also be reviewed in order to determine if the employee is “properly” placed, i.e. in a rehab job which is medically suitable; in compliance with the restoration language in 5 CFR 353, the language in ELM 540 (especially the “pecking order” in 546.142) and EL 505; and performing “necessary” work. 
  3. The review, or reassessment, process will be standardized and consist of:
    • An ELM 546 “Reassignment or Reemployment of Employees Injured on Duty” checklist,which is completed by Postal Service operations personnel.
    • An “interactive” interview with the impacted employee to discuss the new job offer. If there are additional duties which he or she believes can be performed, the employee may ask that they be added to the job offer. Operations will be contacted regarding the addition of these duties. In addition, if the employee has any non-work related medical restrictions, then medical documentation can be provided at this time in order to have these additional restrictions included in the new job offer. The employee may bring someone with them to the interview if they so desire.
    • If an employee’s current job cannot be renewed, then a new job offer will then be provided to the employee and they will have 14 days to accept or reject it. If the employee wants the job offer to be reviewed by his or her treating physician, but such review cannot be completed in 14 days, then the employee should contact their supervisor and request an extension. Reasonable requests will be granted.
    • The local union will be notified of both the Reassessment Process itself and the interview process. Employees will be notified of their specific interviews by their supervisor approximately one week before the date of their interview.
  4. The craft which is indicated on the employee’s Form 50 will be the craft which will first be reviewed for suitable employment. 
  5. Employees who cannot be placed in medically suitable employment with the Postal Service will be provided with a CA Form 2a, “Recurrence of Disability,” and CA Form 7, “Claim for Compensation” and then they will be sent home. It is likely that those employees which are subsequently awarded wage loss compensation by OWCP will be placed in OWCP’s vocational rehabilitation program, which is designed to find them employment in the private sector.

It is important to remember that all existing handbook and manual language still applies. No controlling language has been changed, and every assignment is supposed to be made on a case by case basis after an individualized assessment. We emphasize the fact that each decision regarding the availability of medically suitable employment must be based on the specific fact circumstances unique to each employee. According to the EL-505, “Injury Compensation,” a current employee who is capable of performing his or her core duties with only minor modifications is not considered to be in a modified job assignment. Therefore, in our opinion, these employees should not be subject to the Reassessment Process. Additionally, blanket or wholesale reassignments are clear violations of both applicable language and the Postal Service’s stated position.

The Human Relations Department has prepared a reference document, “When a Limited Duty/Permanent Rehabilitation Assignment is Withdrawn,” that should be useful in determining what action an injured employee and/or the local union can take if the Postal Service determines that there is no medically suitable work available for an employee.

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