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Section 519 of the ELM allows management to grant administrative leave to employees due to "Acts of God. It reads, in part: 519.1 Administrative leave is absence from duty, authorized by appropriate postal officials, without charge to annual or sick leave and without loss of pay.
519.211 "Acts of God" involve community disasters such as fire, flood, or storms. The disaster situation must be general rather than personal in scope or impact. It must prevent groups of employees from working or reporting to work.
519.213 Postmasters and other appropriate postal officials determine whether absences from duty allegedly due to "Acts of God" were, in fact, due to such cause or whether the employee or employees in question could, with reasonable diligence, have reported to duty.
519.214(c) Part-Time Flexible (PTF's) Employees are entitled to credit for hours worked plus enough administrative leave to complete their scheduled tour. The combination of straight time worked and administrative leave may not exceed eight hours in a service day. If there is a question as to the scheduled work hours, the part-time flexible employee is entitled to the greater of the following:
(1) The number of hours the part-time flexible worked on the same service day in the previous service week; or
(2) The number of hours the part-time flexible was scheduled to work; or,
(3) The guaranteed hours as provided in the applicable national agreement.
The Three Criteria
ELM Section 519.211, specifies three criteria which must be met before administrative leave may be granted for "Acts of God".
First, the "Act of God" must create a community disaster.
Second, the disaster must be general, rather than personal, in scope and impact.
Third, it must prevent groups of employees from working or reporting to work. The majority of arbitrators agree that all three of these criteria must be met before a request for administrative leave is upheld.
It is up to the Postmaster to determine whether absences from duty, allegedly due to "Acts of God" were, in fact, due to such cause, or whether the employee or employees in question could have, with reasonable diligence, reported for duty. However, the Postmaster's decision is not beyond question, and is subject to review by an arbitrator.
What Is an "Act of God"? A definition commonly used by arbitrators in determining whether an "Act of God" has occurred which is sufficient to justify the granting of administrative leave, is:
A natural occurrence of extraordinary and unprecedented impact whose magnitude and destructiveness could not have been anticipated or provided against by the exercise of ordinary foresight.
Snowstorms are most often the reason for granting administrative leave. To qualify as an "Act of God", the storm must be of such severity to disrupt normal community functions. Generally, arbitrators consider factors such as the amount of snow, the length of time it fell, wind strength and temperature in determining the severity of the storm (See C-00411). Not every snowstorm or rainstorm can be classified as an "Act of God" merely because of its unusual or above average intensity. The general rule is that an "Act of God" must create "disaster conditions" to justify granting administrative leave.
1. The "Act of God" must involve a community disaster.
C--03964, use of the term disaster means, in so far as the community is concerned, a complete shutdown of all of the services of a community except for emergency services such as fire, police and hospitals. In this case, the arbitrator believed there was no doubt that the severe snowstorm which had occurred was an "Act of God". However, the arbitrator looked to the fact that even though there were no mail deliveries, over 5000 employees in a nearby military base, both civilian and military, reported for work. Thus, the impact on the community was not great enough to constitute a disaster, and administrative leave was denied.
Other factors arbitrators will consider include whether a state of emergency has been declared, evidence of massive road closing, and whether the state police or local authorities have advised persons to stay home. In C-00411, the arbitrator granted administrative leave where there was a three-day snowstorm and the National Guard was called out to rescue people stranded in their cars, while other stranded travelers were forced to sleep in schools.
According to the arbitrator in C--03491, "Bad conditions, poor weather, difficult conditions and the like, are insufficient to constitute a disaster. A disaster must be an extreme situation." In this case, where the storm did not block main roads and during which many businesses were able to operate normally, the arbitrator denied administrative leave.
2. The disaster must be general, rather than personal, in scope and impact.
When is a disaster general in scope and impact?
According to the arbitrator in C--00542, the "scope and impact" of the storm is indicated by the amount of absenteeism among employees scheduled to work that tour. Many arbitrators will consider the number of absences on a given day, but most look to the pattern of absenteeism to make a determination of scope and impact.
Where it can be shown that employees from a large general area were prevented from reporting to work by a storm, administrative leave will usually be upheld. Maps are useful in demonstrating areas where employees live and whether the storm prevented employees from specific areas or general areas from reporting to work. Most arbitrators will consider a particular employee's difficulties in reporting to work. However, if other employees living in the same area were able to report, arbitrators usually find the disaster to have been personal in scope and impact, unless the employee can demonstrate otherwise.
In C--09025, the arbitrator found that the severe thunder and wind storm which hit the area was a community disaster which was general in its scope and impact. However, the arbitrator denied administrative leave where he found that the conditions which prevented the grievants from reporting to work were not generally encountered by other employees.
Occasionally, arbitrators determine the scope and impact based upon whether the Postal Service has suspended operations or curtailed mail delivery. In C-01176, the arbitrator denied administrative leave where there was little impact on postal operations, and held that, since there was no curtailment of mail, it was "impossible to conclude that there was a disaster situation which was general in nature."
However, most arbitrators agree that the ELM does not require the Post Office to close its doors before administrative leave is granted. In C--00713, the arbitrator stated, "the determination of an entitlement to administrative leave does not depend upon whether the Post Office was closed or not. Section 519.211 imposes no requirement that the office be closed or operations curtailed before employees may receive such leave." (See also, C-00447, C-03433, C-0452).