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Don’t Leave Annual Leave Behind!
By Brian J. Wagner
The COVID-19 pandemic has all but encompassed our lives since this past March. However, the pandemic hasn’t stopped active NAPS members from working diligently, with superhero efforts, to bind our nation together with daily mail delivery.
With the pandemic, USPS peak season and the start of the holiday season on the minds of many members, some may have lost sight of taking time off this year for their health and mental well-being. If so, they have put themselves in a “use-or-lose” annual leave situation at the end of the USPS leave year. Here’s the scoop!
Annual leave is a postal employee-earned benefit with the intent to use leave, not lose it. It is recognized in the ELM, Section 512.11: “Annual leave is provided to employees for rest, for recreation, and for personal and emergency purposes.” It may be nice to carry over annual leave into the next leave year if you have special activities planned for that leave or want to receive a nice terminal leave check if planning to retire.
However, the USPS does not allow for unlimited carryover of annual leave each year. Postal policy for annual leave allows a maximum carryover amount of 70 days or 560 hours for nonbargaining employees. Another postal employee benefit is the ability to exchange up to 128 hours of annual leave as part of the Annual Leave Exchange (ALE) program.
Besides having some extra spending money from the ALE, a member avoids exceeding the maximum carryover in the following leave year. These are some great employee benefits. However, the pandemic has caused annual leave issues for some NAPS members.
Due to COVID-19, a large number of postal employees have been quarantined. This has resulted in employee availability issues and various staffing shortages in some post offices and postal facilities. As the pandemic continues to impact people and businesses, popular family and vacation destinations and cruise lines, to name a few, have either shut down or have attendance restrictions.
Speaking of restrictions, various states have issued 14-day quarantine mandates if traveling into their state from a deemed COVID-19 hot spot. Even for general safety and health reasons, many NAPS members have been very cautious to avoid any type of leisure travel during the pandemic.
For whatever COVID-19-related reason, NAPS members have not taken weeks of annual leave in 2020, resulting in many possibly being in a use-or-lose annual leave situation by the end of the Postal Service’s leave year. This was a concern for many NAPS Executive Board and branch members who brought this issue to the attention of NAPS Headquarters.
Therefore, to protect EAS employees against the loss of earned annual leave due to the pandemic, during the August 2020 USPS/NAPS consultative meeting, NAPS requested the Postal Service increase the maximum annual leave carryover and annual leave exchange amounts for 2020 and 2021, respectively. The Postal Service informed NAPS our request was a pay-talks issue that could not be discussed during the monthly consultative. However, the USPS considered our request separately, outside the consultative and official pay-consultation process.
In a letter dated Sept. 3, 2020, the Postal Service notified NAPS that it had accepted our request, but with an alternative increase to NAPS’ suggested request and the reason why. In brief, the USPS agreed to modify ELM 512.321, Maximum Carryover Amounts, for Leave Year 2020 by increasing the maximum annual leave carryover to 80 days (640 hours).
The USPS also agreed to increase by 40 hours the maximum ALE amount—to 168 hours for Leave Year 2021. Provisions of the ALE program are unchanged, which stipulates only leave earned in the new year may be exchanged.
NAPS appreciates the Postal Service’s consideration and decision during the pandemic to modify policy to protect active NAPS members’ well-earned annual leave. NAPS is confident these modified annual leave policies (carryover and exchange) for the respective 2020 and 2021 leave years are a thankful relief to potentially impacted EAS employees.
However, this modification was a result of the pandemic. Therefore, EAS employees should not expect a continued modification to this policy in future USPS leave years.
This column is meant to shine light on the need for members to maintain their mental and physical health, not only during this pandemic, but throughout their postal careers. Furthermore, to plan ahead and use—not lose—well-earned annual leave. Peace of mind and good health are priceless commodities that can’t be bought by exchanging annual leave for cash. NAPS encourages active members to take annual leave each year as part of the three Rs: relaxation, recreation and recharging.
Let’s not forget our associate members. Some may joke they are on vacation every day because they are retired from the Postal Service. But don’t assume retirees have plenty of time on their hands. Many associate members are regularly called on by others to lend a helping hand.
For our associate members, don’t lose sight either of taking time for yourselves to relax and recharge. Your peace of mind, health and well-earned postal retirement are priceless, too. So, take care of yourself.
As you celebrate the holiday season, I wish you and your family all the best in health, happiness and prosperity. I encourage members to schedule more relaxation, recreation and recharging time with family and friends in 2021. Time is a priceless and limited commodity.
One commodity that also is priceless and limited in this season is my December ice-cream-flavor-of-the-month recommendation: frozen peppermint hot chocolate.