The nonprofit investigative newsroom ProPublica recently issued a report on how the United States Postal Service (USPS) dealt with people who were injured on the job.
According to the report, the USPS fired or forced out around 44,000 employees over the course of five years because they suffered work-related injuries. It discriminated against 15,130 more workers by changing their disability accommodations. It also disclosed private medical information.
The USPS allegedly did this as an internal initiative in 2006 called the “National Reassessment Program.” Officials have testified that the idea behind the program was to ensure that staff who developed job-related disabilities were still required to do “necessary work” as opposed to make-work, and also to return as many workers as possible to their original duties.
Ten years ago, a group of 28,000 plaintiffs filed a class action against the USPS with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In both 2015 and 2017, the EEOC ruled that the USPS had illegally discriminated against injured workers by taking away reasonable accommodations, creating a hostile work environment and revealing confidential health information. Nevertheless, the USPS refuses to settle with the class. It insists on a hearing for each and every individual, which will drag the process out for years.
USPS workers say that the agency not only targeted injured workers for termination, but it also created and allowed a culture of harassment. Workers with disabilities were openly mocked and portrayed as lazy. They were told they would soon be working as Walmart greeters.
Federal law requires reasonable accommodations for disabilities
If you become disabled, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is supposed to protect you. If you work for a federal agency, like the USPS, you would be covered by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Most of the protections are the same under the two laws.
In general, these laws prohibit job discrimination against people with disabilities and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for injuries and disabilities.
Although employers aren’t required to hire people who cannot complete the essential functions of the work, the law generally requires that people will be moved to lighter duty or given disability accommodations where doing so would not cause undue hardship for the employer. “Undue hardship” is essentially defined as significant difficulty or expense.
Moreover, these laws prohibit harassment of people with disabilities or perceived disabilities.
The laws do not require the USPS to provide easy, “make-work” jobs for people who have been injured or who have disabilities. They require only reasonable accommodations, and that is what the class action alleges USPS refused to do.