With an organization as large as the U.S. Postal Service, it’s essential to move mail under any contingency, including when postal workers go on leave. Making sure the work gets done requires efficiently shifting personnel, which may mean USPS incurs additional costs, such as having to pay overtime to other employees.
Sometimes workers take leave without giving prior notice, and if they can’t be granted unscheduled leave status, they may be designated as Absence Without Leave (AWOL). Put simply, AWOL is a non-pay status that happens when USPS determines no kind of leave, even leave without pay, can be granted. With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the Postal Service worked with its unions to implement a liberal leave policy, as long as employees could provide documentation. Despite that, monthly AWOL hours rose, doubling from April 2020 to September 2020.
In a recent report, OIG auditors assessed the Postal Service’s management of employees in AWOL status from fiscal years 2018 through 2020. The goal was to identify opportunities to address AWOL status in a timely manner and manage costs. While we understand USPS has faced challenges during the pandemic, we identified two areas for improvement.
Specifically, management didn’t always properly record AWOL hours, nor always collect or maintain supporting documentation for AWOL employees. Additionally, guidance for discipline of AWOL employees varied from district to district, causing confusion and potentially leading to managers and supervisors following different procedures. To address the situation, we made eight recommendations; Postal Service management generally agreed with all.