USPS brings back mask policy for workforce — with or without vaccination

The Postal Service is requiring its employees — regardless of their vaccination status — to once again wear masks to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

The policy requires USPS employees to wear masks in public-facing settings when there is a state or local face-covering order or directive in place, or when an employee who does not deal directly with the public cannot achieve or maintain social distancing in the workplace.

Deputy Postmaster General Doug Tulino, who also serves as the agency’s chief human resources officer, said in a memo that employees are required to wear face coverings “regardless of their vaccination status” until further notice.

Tulino said facilities should ensure they have an adequate supply of masks available for employees, and that employees who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons should contact their supervisors.

A stand-up meeting memo, issued last Friday, states USPS is returning to its previous face mask policy “as a result of the uncertainty with COVID-19 related to the ‘Delta Variant.”

USPS, as an independent agency, is charting its own course on mask and vaccine policies, but when it comes to mask requirements, the agency has generally trailed behind the rest of the federal government.

USPS lifted its mask mandate for vaccinated employees less than two weeks before the Biden administration ordered the rest of the federal workforce to once again mask up, regardless of vaccination status.

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) said in July that USPS “unilaterally” lifted its mask mandate for vaccinated employees and contractors, despite objections from the union. APWU data shows quarantines among the USPS workforce increased by nearly 30% in July and ticked upward in the weeks after the agency lifted its mask mandate.

USPS in the memo encourages all employees “who wish to get vaccinated” to do so, and backs up messaging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that widespread vaccination for COVID-19 is a critical tool to help stop the spread of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

However, USPS employees are under no obligation to get the vaccine. Administration officials told Federal News Network last month that USPS, as an independent agency, is not subject to the administration’s vaccine guidance, but its employees are “strongly encouraged” to follow it.

APWU told members last month that it had ensured USPS will not institute a mandatory vaccine policy, but encouraged all eligible people to get the vaccine.

The mask policy comes at a time when Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is surging the agency’s workforce to prepare for the peak holiday season at the end of the year.

USPS has faced significant workforce shortages throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said employees across 30,000 locations are coming back to work in higher numbers every day and “helping speed the return to normalcy” as COVID-19 vaccination rates improve.

“Throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Postal Service has continued to fulfill its critical mission to bind the nation together. Our employees are working hard across the country to ensure we are there for our customers every day, serving as a lifeline for millions of people,” USPS wrote in the stand-up meeting memo.

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