News & information

COVID-19 guide

The NALC strives to keep letter carriers as safe as possible. To that end, what follows is a compilation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations and Postal Service policies, which the USPS states are based on CDC guidance, to help keep letter carriers safe in the workplace. These recommendations and policies are subject to change as the pandemic evolves. This guide will be updated as necessary, so be sure to check periodically for any changes.

This guide has been updated May 6, 2022 to reflect the expiration of several COVID-19 related MOUs and the Postal Service’s liberal leave policy.

Vaccination

Mask policy

Social distancing

Cleaning

Contact tracing, exposure and leave

Memorandums of Understanding

 

Vaccination

Are vaccines safe?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states COVID-19 vaccines are safe, and much safer than getting COVID-19. According to the CDC, the vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and help limit the spread. They were developed using science that has been around for decades. If you are unvaccinated, the CDC recommends you get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can.

How can I find a COVID-19 vaccine?
To find a COVID-19 vaccine or booster go to vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find locations near you.

What if I miss work to receive a vaccine?
Career employees can use sick leave, annual leave, or leave without pay, in accordance with ELM Section 513. City Carrier Assistants can use annual leave.

What if I have a reaction to the vaccine?
Career employees can use sick leave, annual leave, or leave without pay, in accordance with ELM Section 513. City Carrier Assistants can use annual leave.

How much does the vaccine cost?
COVID-19 vaccines are available for everyone ages 5 years and older at no cost.

Mask policy

What is the mask policy?
As of March 29, 2022, the Postal Service will no longer require any postal employee to wear a face covering while at work. All previous Postal Service face covering policies are rescinded. Employees may continue to voluntarily wear a mask or face covering if they choose. Read more here

Social distancing

When should social distancing be practiced?
USPS Mandatory Stand-Up Talk Social distancing reminder, dated November 18, 2020, explains that social distancing must be observed whenever possible while on delivery routes, at retail counters, and within the postal workplace: in plants, on docks, and in lunch and break rooms. COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact, within about 6 feet for a prolonged period – 15 minutes within a 24-hour period. Social distancing, or maintaining 6 feet between yourself and others should be practiced whenever possible to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

What if management wants to complete a PS Form 3999, Inspection of Letter Carrier Route?
Examiners will remain at least 6 feet away from the carrier at all times in the office, including during clock ring activities, DPS/FSS retrieval, vehicle load and unload, retrieving and returning empty equipment. Both the examiner and carrier will wear face coverings in accordance with local ordinances and when social distancing cannot be maintained. On the street examiners will remain at least 6 feet away from the carrier at all times, including mail delivery, relay/reloading, accountable delivery, package delivery, scans and collection, lunch/breaks. If a vehicle is needed, the examiner must utilize a separate vehicle. See the USPS Standard Work Instruction for Maintaining Social Distancing While Conducting a PS Form 3999.

What if an LLV with a modified bulkhead door is available when completing PS Form 3999,  Inspection of Letter Carrier Route?
The USPS recommends examiners to ride in the vehicle for mounted routes when the vehicle has been modified. For all other routes the determination is made based on local conditions. If used, the examiner will sit in the jump seat behind the modified bulkhead door and they must enter and exit via back door and have an extra vehicle key. The carrier is to replenish and retrieve parcels by opening the rear cargo door from outside the LLV. The examiner and carrier will wear face coverings at all times and the bulkhead door is to remain closed during the inspection. See the USPS Standard Work Instruction for Conducting a PS Form 3999 in LLV with Modified Bulkhead Door (Interior Horizontal Sliding Cargo Door).

What if management wants to complete a PS Form 1838-C, Carrier’s Count Mail – Letter Carrier Routes Worksheet?
Examiners will remain at least 6 feet away from the carriers at all times in the office, including clock ring activities, vehicle inspections, driver’s license checks, service/safety talks, withdrawal of mail from distribution, monitoring carriers at the carrier case, and retrieving accountable items. All available mail will be counted prior to the carrier reporting. The examiner will retrieve and count parcels in a separate designated area. It is recommended for the carrier and examiner to use disposable gloves when handling mail and/or inspection-related documents. See the USPS Standard Work Instruction for Maintaining Social Distancing While Conducting a PS Form 1838-C.

Who enforces the social distancing policy?
It is the responsibility of management to enforce the social distancing policy. If this policy is not enacted or enforced you should contact your shop steward and complete PS Form 1767, Report of Hazard, Unsafe Condition or Practice.

Cleaning

Where can I find cleaning instructions and recommendations?
On February 3, 2020, the USPS issued Maintenance Management Order (MMO-031-20) Influenza and Coronavirus Cleaning Contingency updating pre-COVID-19 cleaning instructions to follow the recommendations issued by the CDC, Guidance on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility. USPS COVID-19 Supervisor and Management Guidance instructs them to ensure the Postal facility is cleaned daily per MMO-031-20.

How often should my facility be cleaned and/or disinfected?
If no one with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 has been in a space, cleaning once a day is usually enough to remove virus that may be on surfaces. This also helps maintain a healthy facility.

The CDC advises to either clean more frequently or choose to disinfect in addition to cleaning in shared spaces if the space:

What needs routine cleaning?
High touch surfaces should be cleaned at least once a day or as often as determined is necessary. Examples of high-touch surfaces include pens, counters, shopping carts, tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, stair rails, elevator buttons, desks, keyboards, phones, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

What is the cleaning protocol if a sick person or someone who tested positive for COVID-19 has been in my facility?

Should my vehicle be cleaned?
In accordance with Mandatory Stand-Up Talk Keeping your vehicle clean dated November 4, 2020, management should make every effort to have employees utilize the same delivery vehicle daily to reduce possible transmission. Letter carriers should be sure to clean frequently touched surfaces in their delivery vehicle with household disinfecting spray or wipes. Frequently touched surfaces in a vehicle may include the steering wheel, inside and outside door handles, shift levers, any buttons or touch screens, wiper and turn signal levers, passenger and driver door armrests, grab handles, seat belts and seat adjusters. After cleaning, be sure to also wash your hands.

What if I need cleaning supplies?
Cleaning supplies should be available on site and reordered as needed. The USPS has established a centralized support to purchase and deliver COVID-19 supplies. If your office does not have sufficient or the necessary cleaning supplies, they should be ordered in accordance with Mandatory Stand-Up Talk COVID-19 supplies – purchasing updates dated April 3, 2020.

When should I wash my hands?
The CDC recommends washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public space, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. It’s especially important to wash your hands after certain events, such as before eating or preparing food, after using the restroom, or after leaving a public place. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

Who enforces the cleaning policy?
It is the responsibility of management to ensure the facility is cleaned in accordance with the policy and to provide necessary supplies for letter carriers to clean their vehicles. If this policy is not enacted or enforced you should contact your shop steward and complete PS Form 1767, Report of Hazard, Unsafe Condition or Practice.

Contact tracing, exposure and leave

What is contact tracing?
Contact tracing is a process to identify and isolate possible infections to limit the spread of COVID-19. A USPS Occupational Health Nurse Administrator (OHNA) or safety personnel will initiate a close contact investigation within 24 hours of notice of an employee testing positive for COVID-19. They will interview the employee regarding their movements and potential contact with co-workers. If you are contacted by the OHNA, provide the requested information and follow their instructions.

Is my medical history confidential?
Discussions with health department staff are confidential. Your personal and medical information will be kept private and only shared with those who may need to know, such as your health care provider. If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, your name will not be shared with those you came in contact with.

Will I be notified if someone in my office has tested positive?
You will be contacted by an OHNA if you are identified as a person having exposure to COVID-19 at the workplace. The name of the person who tested positive will not be shared.

What type of leave do I use if the Occupational Health Nurse Administrator (OHNA) instructs me to quarantine?
Employees potentially exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace or identified as a close contact to another COVID-19 positive employee and sent home by USPS will be placed on administrative leave. If symptoms develop, the employee will utilize sick leave. If a career employee becomes COVID-19 positive they can utilize sick leave, annual leave, or leave without pay. City Carrier Assistants can use annual leave.

All employees that test positive should consider filing an on-the-job injury claim.

What type of leave do I use if a local health official or my physician instructs me to quarantine?
If a local health department or the employee’s physician advises the employee to quarantine and the employee has symptoms of COVID-19, career employees can utilize sick leave, annual leave, or leave without pay. City Carrier Assistants can use annual leave. If the employee does not have symptoms of COVID-19, career employees can utilize sick leave, annual leave, or leave without pay in accordance with ELM Section 513. City Carrier Assistants can use annual leave.

What if I believe I have been exposed to COVID-19?
The CDC recommends that individuals who are not up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations should quarantine for five days followed by strict face covering use for an additional five days.

Individuals who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations do not need to quarantine following an exposure but should wear a face covering for 10 days after the exposure. For all those exposed, best practice would also include a test for COVID-19 at least 5 days after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately isolate until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.

What if I have been exposed to an individual who was exposed to a COVID-19 positive person?
Employees who are exposed to an individual who was exposed to a COVID-19 positive person are otherwise cleared to work.

When can I return to work following an absence due to close contact tracing or potential exposure?
An employee can return to work after five days have passed since last close contact with a person who tested positive, provided the employee has not developed COVID-19 symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19. Upon return to work, the employee will be required to wear a face covering for five days whenever working near any other employees. The determination of return to work can be made by a local supervisor or manager without involving the OHNA as long as the employee indicates that they have not developed any symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19. If the employee indicates that they have tested positive or have developed symptoms, the OHNA must be involved before the employee is cleared to return to work.

All employees that test positive should consider filing an on-the-job injury claim.

What if I develop symptoms of COVID-19?
Employees that develop symptoms of COVID-19 including fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat or new loss of taste or smell are advised to seek medical treatment and should be sent home. Sick leave, annual leave, or leave without pay may be used. City Carrier Assistants may use annual leave.

When can I return to work following an absence due to COVID-19 symptoms?
An employee can come back to work after an absence due to symptoms of COVID-19 without testing if the employee has had no fever for at least 24 hours without the use of any fever-reducing medication and at least five days have passed since COVID-19 symptoms ceased.

What if I test positive for COVID-19?
Notify your immediate supervisor of a positive finding of COVID-19. In accordance with COVID-19 Supervisor and Management Guidance issued Jan. 1, 2021, the supervisor will give you the contact information for the District OHNA for you to provide medical documentation from your treating physician or public health official. If not already completed, you should be contacted by a USPS nurse or safety official within 24 hours for you to provide information for contact tracing. Please answer their questions and follow the instructions given to you regarding the return-to-work protocols. Sick leave, annual leave, or leave without pay may be used. City Carrier Assistants can use annual leave.

The CDC recommends that everyone, regardless of vaccination status stay home for five days. If there are no symptoms or symptoms resolve after five days, you can leave your house. Continue to wear a mask around others for five additional days. If you have a fever, continue to stay home until your fever resolves.

All employees that test positive should consider filing an on-the-job injury claim.

When can I return to work after testing positive for COVID-19?
If an employee was absent due to a positive diagnosis, they can return to work following an interview with a USPS physician or nurse to confirm that the employee has had no fever for at least 24 hours without the use of any fever-reducing medication and at least five days have passed since COVID-19 symptoms ceased. If your physician has cleared you to work, and the USPS does not permit you to return to work, contact your shop steward or branch officer for assistance. 

What if I still have a loss of taste or smell?
Loss of taste and/or smell may persist for weeks or months after recovery and need not delay the return to work.

In what circumstances should I receive administrative leave?
Employees will receive administrative leave when potentially exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace or identified as a close contact to another COVID-19 positive employee and sent home by USPS, or whenever approved on a case-by-case basis.

What if the Occupational Health Nurse Administrator (OHNA) hasn’t contacted me within 24 hours for contact tracing?
If you have tested positive and reported it to your supervisor, or if you know you were exposed to another employee positive with COVID-19, and have not received a call from an OHNA to perform a contact tracing investigation, you should contact your shop steward and the District OHNA directly. Your supervisor can provide the District OHNA contact information.

Where can I find the USPS return to work guidance?
The USPS Criteria for Return to Work for Employees after an absence related to COVID-19, updated as of January 5, 2022, can be found here.

Where can I find the USPS Close Contact Tracing Program?
The USPS Close Contact Tracing Program, updated January 2022, can be found here.

What if I think I contracted COVID-19 through the workplace or in the performance of my duties?
On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). The new law makes it much easier for federal workers diagnosed with COVID-19 to establish coverage under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). If you were diagnosed with COVID-19 while employed in Federal service at any time during the period of January 27, 2020, to January 27, 2023, and worked within 21 days of your diagnosis your claim can be established through the new law. Filing a claim can provide benefits such as Continuation of Pay, wage loss compensation, medical coverage, and death benefits. As the long-term effects of COVID-19 are relatively unknown, even for an asymptomatic case, filing a claim can provide protection for your future. You can read about filing an ARPA COVID-19 claim here and on the NALC Injured on the job web page here.

You should file a CA-1 (Federal Employee's Notice of Traumatic Injury and Claim for Continuation of Pay/Compensation) through the Employees’ Compensation Operations and Management Portal (ECOMP). You can register and file a claim on ECOMP.

If any part of your claim is controverted (disputed) by the USPS or if your physician clears you to return to work and the USPS does not permit you to return to work, you should contact your National Business Agent.

When can I use leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. There may be circumstances related to COVID-19 for which letter carriers may want to consider their eligibility for FMLA. For example, a letter carrier who requests time off to care for an individual who has tested positive. Read about FMLA here. 

What if I receive discipline for leave usage related to COVID-19?
In accordance with USPS instructions M-01914, which was effective February 29, 2020, and extended continuously through April 18, 2022, if an employee requests leave for reasons related to COVID-19, such leave should be treated as scheduled (as opposed to unscheduled) leave. Leave taken for COVID-19 related reasons while this instruction is in effect may not be cited in discipline for failing to maintain an assigned schedule under ELM Section 511.43.

What if my facility is not enforcing these safety protocols or I have additional questions and concerns?
Contact your shop steward if you have additional questions or need assistance. If your shop steward is unavailable, contact a branch officer. Members or branch officers that need assistance should contact their National Business Agent.

Memorandums of Understanding

The NALC and the USPS have agreed to several memorandums of understanding (MOU) related to the COVID-19 pandemic. These agreements can be found at NALC’s Materials Reference System. 

Temporary Time Limit Extension on Step B and Arbitration Appeals (M-01977)
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, NALC and the USPS have agreed that absent agreement otherwise at the Formal A level or regional/area level, time limits for appealing grievances to Step B of the grievance-arbitration procedure and appeals to arbitration will be extended for a period of 30 days beyond those specified in the National Agreement. This additional time period will be effective on January 1, 2022, upon the expiration date of the current time limit extension agreement and will continue until May 6, 2022. In accordance with M-01981, absent agreement otherwise at the Formal A or regional/area levels, May 7, 2022, will serve as day 1 of the existing contractual time limits for such appeals to Step B and arbitration that remain timely on the May 6, 2022, expiration date.