According to the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) fired or forced out approximately 44,000 workers after being injured on the job. The agency also changed or revoked disability accommodations for another 15,130. These firings took place to meet an initiative called the “National Reassessment Program.” The EEOC says the program was discriminatory, but the post office continues to fight every claim.
Employers are generally required to provide a workplace that is reasonably safe and free of hazards. But at the USPS, severe and disabling injuries are common. Although the agency of over 630,000 people makes up about a fifth of the federal workforce, postal workers suffer about half of all workplace injuries and illnesses among federal workers.
What to do when a worker can no longer perform their job duties
Whether these injuries come from sorting, processing or delivering the mail, they are often serious. When someone becomes injured on the job, it is illegal to retaliate. Instead, if they can no longer perform their existing job duties without accommodation, their employer must provide them with a reasonable accommodation unless it would cause undue hardship.
If someone becomes disabled and can no longer perform their existing job duties even with an accommodation, it is customary to give them another job that they can perform. No employer is required to create work so that a person with a disability will have a job. But, when an otherwise valued employee becomes unable to perform specific job duties, and the employer has other positions available that the person could perform, they should generally be provided the opportunity. This is commonly required by union contract, and the USPS has a unionized workforce.
According to testimony, the purpose of the “National Reassessment Program” was to make sure that employees with disabilities were performing “necessary work’ and to move workers back into their original positions once they had recuperated.
According to an EEOC judge, the program served to get rid of many injured and disabled employees, especially those who had been moved into new positions due to medical restrictions. Moreover, many workers allege that they were openly mocked and stigmatized for being injured or developing a disability.
In both 2015 and 2017, the EEOC ruled that the “National Reassessment Program” illegally discriminated against employees with injuries and disabilities in three ways:
- Creating a work environment hostile to employees with injuries and disabilities
- Taking away disability accommodations
- Revealing confidential medical information
Federal workers are protected from this type of discrimination by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If you believe you have been affected by disability discrimination, contact an experienced employment law attorney.