Lax USPS oversight of employee COVID-19 leave results in $12.4M in unsupported costs: IG

Supporting documentation missing or improperly completed for 96% of randomly sampled employees.
Golden Horseshoe

This week's award goes to the U.S. Postal Service for its failure to oversee employees' COVID-19-related leave resulting in at least $12.4 million in questionable costs, a watchdog found.

USPS failed to follow procedures for employees claiming COVID-19-related leave, and an audit by the agency's inspector general found supporting documentation was missing from a majority of employee's files.

The IG found that for 185 of 192 (96%) randomly sampled employees documentation was either missing or not properly completed. 

"By not having appropriate supporting documentation to substantiate that employees were on authorized leave, we estimated the Postal Service's unsupported COVID-19 leave costs nationwide totaled $12.4 million," the IG reported.

The audit found 174,728 employees of the agency's 675,872 total employees — 25.9% of its workforce — had taken COVID-19-related leave as of Dec. 31, 2020. 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law in March 2020 and allowed for two new types of leave under the pandemic. It was effective through the end of 2020, but the agency did not abide by that date.

The audit found USPS allowed "liberal leave usage for employees who had a sickness related to COVID-19" even after FFCRA expired.

USPS facility managers did not ensure the agency's form for a leave of absence was in employees' files. Managers "did not always maintain a completed Postal Service Form 3971, Request for Notification of Absence, or the additional required documentation to support emergency paid sick leave and expanded FMLA," according to the IG.

The audit also found employees exceeded their COVID-19 leave limits. 

"There were nearly 12,000 instances of employees who exceeded COVID-19-related leave limits," the audit reported. "Specifically, the Postal Service identified and made over 8,300 payroll adjustments for employees who exceeded COVID-19-related leave limits. We found nearly 3,600 additional employees who still needed payroll adjustments because they exceeded leave limits."

With the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law in March with COVID-19 leave available through September 2021, the watchdog said "it is critical for the Postal Service to ensure consistent communication on the importance of policy requirements and system flexibility to prevent the same or similar issues from reoccurring."