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PDI vs. I&I: Are They the Same Thing?
By Brian J. Wagner
NAPS Immediate Past President
This spring and summer, I attended various NAPS training seminars and state conventions, providing training on membership representation. I addressed issues related to pre-disciplinary interviews (PDIs), investigative interviews (I&Is) and elements of the ELM 650 appeals and grievance processes.
There was good information derived from this training, including the difference between a USPS PDI and an I&I. Do you know the difference? Is this a trick question? Isn’t a PDI and an I&I one in the same? Here’s the scoop:
Have you ever ordered a Coke at a restaurant, but your server said they only carried Pepsi products? Unless you are finicky about your soda, most people consider these sodas one in the same. However, don’t get me started about gelato, frozen yogurt and ice cream. That is a completely different debate.
Now, let’s follow this same soda analogy with some USPS terminology. For example, craft employees have a “bid” job. EAS employees are awarded non-bargaining positions. However, on more than enough occasions, some NAPS members say they were involuntarily reassigned from their “bid” job.
Furthermore, a craft employee is issued a letter of demand whereas EAS employees receive a letter of debt determination. More often than not, EAS employees will refer to their debt determination letter as a letter of demand. Although the appeal processes are different, the intent of both letters is the same: The USPS is claiming an employee owes money to the agency.
Don’t get me started when some postal leaders and even NAPS members refer to NAPS as a union. There are distinct differences between a union and a management association. However, when it comes to PDIs and I&Is, the distinctions can become blurry.
In simplest terms, a pre-disciplinary interview (PDI) is a craft employee’s day in court. Postal union collective-bargaining agreements (CBAs) require postal management to provide a craft employee with a PDI before issuing the discipline.
When you dissect the PDI acronym, “pre-disciplinary” should stand out as an indication that discipline most likely is forthcoming after the interview.
For EAS employees, there are no CBAs. However, there is the USPS Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM)—specifically Section 665.3, Cooperation in Investigations—which reads: “Employees must cooperate in any postal investigation, including Office of Inspector General investigations.”
In this case, per ELM 665.3, EAS employees may be called into an investigative interview (I&I). By definition, an investigative interview is when: “(1) management questions an employee to obtain information; and (2) the employee has a reasonable belief that discipline or other adverse consequences may result.”
While some consider Coke and Pepsi one in the same, postal leadership often uses PDI as being synonymous or interchangeable with the I&I when it comes to EAS employees. Although PDIs apply to craft employees, my best guess is when a manager instructs an EAS employee to attend a PDI, in reality they mean an I&I.
It would be easy to split hairs and not show up for the PDI when it’s not an I&I. However, to avoid being accused by USPS officials for violating ELM Section 665.3, Cooperation in Investigations, it’s probably best that EAS employees consider PDIs and I&Is as one in the same.
Just remember, the PD stands for pre-disciplinary. So, be “prepared” or “precautionary.” If you ever are called into a PDI or an I&I, always have the “reasonable belief that disciplinary action may ensue.” This is the same if you ever are called into an OIG investigative interview.
It’s best to note that this column primarily covers the process for when EAS employees are called into a PDI or an I&I by their manager. However, EAS employees may be subject to attending an investigative interview with Office of Inspector General (OIG) agents.
Depending on the severity of the situation, an OIG investigative interview could result in reading an EAS employee their Miranda rights and the OIG filing criminal charges against them. The general bullet points listed later also should be followed when it involves an OIG investigative interview.
However, a PDI or an I&I involving an EAS employee’s manager only can result in disciplinary or adverse action, as the postal manager has no authority to give Miranda rights or file criminal charges against the employee. Now, back to regular programming.
Al Lum, NAPS’ Disciplinary Defense Fund (DDF) provider, has referenced that, from a broad perspective, industry-wide, pre-disciplinary interviews are universal. He did not find any source that indicates employment investigations are voluntary. Some sources indicate that one should refer to the policies (manuals) of the employer. Again, note ELM Section 665.3, Cooperation in Investigations.
Lum also elaborated that it is important to focus on how one conducts themselves during a PDI or an I&I. For EAS employees, this conduct falls right in line with NAPS’ ELM 650 Appeals and Grievance Training material on the NAPS website, www.naps.org.
First, know your rights as an EAS employee. Read the entire ELM 650, especially Section 651.2, Representation, which reads, in part: “Employees covered under these provisions may request representation during investigative questioning if the employee has a reasonable belief disciplinary action may ensue.”
Per Lum, right off the bat, ask what the PDI or I&I is about. Also, ask to see any reports or documentation the USPS is using to accuse the member of wrongdoing. More often than not, the EAS employee is coerced to answer questions without visual evidence.
According to Lum, in a few MSPB appeal cases, members have told their DDF provider that the supporting documentation presented by the USPS during a MSPB hearing was the first time the member ever had seen those documents. In some instances, the USPS has the [alleged] evidence and already has decided to take disciplinary action against the employee, but just wanted to lock down their case with a confession without having to show the documents.
Therefore, it’s important to lock down how best to conduct and handle oneself during a PDI or an I&I. Remember:
If your NAPS representative is not readily available, but the USPS manager orders you to attend without a representative, then you attend. However, explain to the manager you are willing to cooperate, per ELM 665.3, but not until your NAPS representative is present, per ELM 651.2.
Postal operations are not going to stop or the world come to an end if the manager has to wait for a NAPS representative to arrive. Any attempt by a manager to force an EAS employee to participate in a PDI or an I&I by answering questions without a NAPS representative present is a bullying and harassing technique to get EAS employees to admit to something they did not do.
Investigative interviews can be stressful and cause confusion regarding one’s thoughts and comments. Therefore, never hesitate to call your local NAPS representative to have your back. NAPS is here to minimize a member’s stress and/or confusion before, during and after a USPS investigation.
I can assure you there is no stress or confusion with my ice-cream- flavor-of-the-month-recommendation from Duluth, MN: goat cheese honeycomb.