APWU: Arbitrator Overturns Advance Sick Leave Denial

Denying an employee’s request for advance sick leave based solely on the grievant’s low sick leave balance doesn’t make sense.  Why else would a person need advanced sick leave?

Article 10 – Advance Sick Leave Denial
This is a summary of Regular Panel Arbitrator Timothy Buckalew’s decision in case B06T-1B-C-08264489 regarding the Postal Service’s decision to deny an employee’s request for advance sick leave based solely on the grievant’s low sick leave balance. The arbitrator sustained the Union’s grievance; he ruled the Postal Service violated Article 19 of the contract because there was not a rational basis for the decision to deny the grievant’s request for advanced sick leave under ELM Section 513.511. In so doing, he ordered the Postal Service to advance sick leave to cover the period of the absence and otherwise make the grievant whole.

The grievant filed a written request for Advance Sick Leave on the form provided by local management requesting 120 hours of advance sick leave to cover hospitalization and post-hospitalization recovery for the period May 31 to June 20. In his letter accompanying the formal request, the grievant informed his Plant Manager that he had recently been hospitalized for pneumonia which had aggravated his chronic congestive heart failure, a condition which had caused numerous absences since 2003 that were covered by FMLA, and which had caused him to use all of his sick leave. The grievant submitted medical documentation, that is uncontested here and was accepted by his supervisor and Plant Manager. The grievant’s request for Advance Sick Leave was denied; according the Plant Manager, “The reason for this decision is that your history of sick leave usage indicates a great probability that you will not be able to reimburse the U.S. Postal Service for the advance.”

The arbitrator stated in his decision:
The plain language of the ELM is the source of this conclusion. While it is clear management is not required to grant requests for advance leave, arbitrators have uniformly held that the discretion recognized in Section 513.511, the installation head must consider the facts of each case and make a make a reasoned consideration of the facts to determine if the employee meets the preconditions for advanced leave and if there is reason to believe the employee will return to duty. . . The remaining question posed by this grievance is whether the plant manager’s decision to deny Sparacio’s request based solely on his history of sick leave usage. . . I agree generally with this concept. If management has discretion to administer the provision it follows that decision makers must have some latitude regarding the factors they consider. Advanced leave is not a matter of right, and management is permitted to look at numerous factors, including attendance history, but the majority of cases emphasize that a low or zero balance of sick leave should not be treated as an automatic disqualifying factor.
Gary Kloepfer