(This article first appeared in the January-February 2018 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)
By Human Relations Director Sue Carney
It is important for employees who have been injured on the job to know their rights regarding claim privacy. Despite being the employing agency, the United States Postal Service does not have privileges to most claim information.
The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), Division of Federal Employees’ Compensation is responsible for the administration of the Federal Employees Compensation Act. It has sole authority to control and limit the disclosure of claim records.
The USPS is merely the control point. The primary role of a control point is to ensure Compensation Act (CA) forms are completed accurately from the claimant’s perspective and submitted timely to OWCP as required by law. Postal designees, including management officials, health and resource management personnel, occupational health nurses, postal physicians and contract doctors have specific roles regarding workplace injury claims, but their access to claim records is very limited. Any disclosure must be consistent with the DOL’s Privacy Act routine uses. Secretaries should not have access.
The Office of the Inspector General is subject to the same rules unless a criminal investigation is underway. Agents must indicate the suspected activity and relevance of the documents before OWCP will disclose records. The claim file should not be the original source for an investigation. If under investigation, state your willingness to cooperate, disclose nothing and obtain legal counsel before meeting with agents.
Postal officials are barred from using claim information in grievances without having the written consent of claimants, unless the record falls under what is known as the Safe Harbor list. Employees can limit consent to the union by completing a DOL Privacy Act Waiver.
Employees cannot be forced to sign disclosure forms to release claim or medical information to postal representatives, nor can they be disciplined for refusing. Claimants and their treating physicians are not required to provide claim information to the USPS or obliged to cooperate, respond or make themselves available to postal designees and service providers, e.g. Contract Claim Services, Inc. except as follows:
Only notices of injury (CA1), disease (CA2) and recurrence (CA2a), claims for wage loss compensation (CA7, CA7a) and leave buyback (CA7b) need to be submitted to the Postal Service. Claimants must provide their medical restrictions and prognosis to the employer. Form CA 17 is recommended but not required. Physicians should include concurrent, non-work related medical restrictions as they must be factored into job offers. The USPS may only contact the treating physician in writing solely to obtain restrictions and prognosis information. The employee must be provided a copy of the letter at time of submission and must be given a copy of the doctor’s response upon receipt.
Claimants should return job offers, accepted or refused, to the USPS. Disabled employees are not required to re- port to work or other locations to discuss potential job offers. USPS can mail the offer. If claiming continuation of pay (COP), employees must submit prima facie medical evidence to their supervisor within ten calendar days of claiming COP to support their work-related absence.
That’s it. All other forms and medical documentation can – and should – be submitted directly to OWCP. Any other employer requests should be directed to OWCP to determine entitlement.
Employees are not required to answer or return postal calls, nor are they required to let postal officials into their homes. Doing so can be at their peril.
Refusing to share additional claim information with postal designees should have no bearing on claims or benefits. DFEC is the determining office. It makes all de- cisions about claims and benefits under FECA, including claim approval, medical benefits, payment for lost wages, and the suitability of job offers – not the Postal Service. You have every right to protect your claim privacy.