USPS 12 Hour Rule (Meaning, How It Works + Other FAQs)

There’s no doubt about it—USPS employees work hard. While a “typical” workweek for full-time employees is set at 40 hours, many work way more than that. In fact, due to ever-increasing package volume and staffing shortages, it seems like a USPS employee’s work is never done.

Still, there are protections in place to make sure USPS employees get enough rest time between shifts. One such protection is the so-called 12 Hour Rule. If you’re curious about what this rule is all about, then be sure to keep reading.

USPS 12 Hour Rule In [currentyear]

USPS’ 12 Hour Rule states that except for certain employees or in emergency situations (as determined by the postmaster general), employees may not be required to work more than 12 hours in 1a service day or 60 hours within a service week. Postmasters and exempt employees are excluded from these provisions.

 To find out more about how this rule works and who it applies to, then check out the rest of our article.

What Is The USPS 12 Hour Rule?

USPS’ 12 Hour Rule indicates that except as designated by bargaining agreements or in emergency situations, employees may not be required to work more than 12 hours in 1 service day or 60 hours in a service week.

In addition, the total hours of daily service, including scheduled work hours, overtime hours, and mealtime may not be extended over a period longer than 12 consecutive hours.

While this rule seems simple on the surface, there’s actually quite a bit to unpack here.

First, there’s the matter of bargaining agreement exceptions. What this means is that this rule does not apply if one of the USPS unions has a provision against it.

In other words, if a labor union does not want to follow the 12 Hour Rule, they can mention this in their bargaining agreement with USPS management.

Next is the issue of “emergency situations.” Such situations are determined by the postmaster general or a designee. 

Technically speaking, the Postal Service defines emergency situations as “an unforeseen circumstance or combination of circumstances of a non-recurring nature.”

Unfortunately from anecdotal evidence from USPS employees, management seems to have a fairly loose definition of emergencies.

Indeed, some employees claim that anything from being short-staffed to having a heavy mail day can be considered an emergency by their managers.

Another part of this rule worth taking a closer look at is how exactly the 12 hours are calculated. It’s important to note that mealtimes and other scheduled breaks are included in the 12-hour period.

Therefore, if an employee is scheduled to take a 30-minute lunch break, then the total number of hours they can work in 1 day is 11.5 hours.

Put another way, an employee cannot be required to stay at work more than 12 hours after they first punched in, regardless of any breaks they took.

Who Does The USPS 12 Hour Rule Apply To?

Who Does The USPS 12 Hour Rule Apply To? USPS

This rule applies to pretty much every rank and file USPS employee except those designated otherwise in labor agreements.

One such group is City Carriers. Because mail volume tends to be higher in urban and suburban areas, City Carriers can add their name to the Overtime Desired List.

Having their name on this list lets them work more than 12 hours per day all year round.

Another exempt group is Postmasters.

Are There Any Exceptions To The USPS 12 Hour Rule?

As mentioned above, City Carriers can become exempt from the 12 Hour Rule if they elect to add their name to the Overtime Desired List.

Rural Carriers do not have this option, but they can work more than 12 hours per day in December.

More specifically, this “December exemption” covers the last 3 weeks of the year when mail volume is at its highest. 

What Do You Do If You Go Over 12 Hours?

This is an interesting question because there doesn’t seem to be a single agreed-upon answer.

That’s even more distressing considering how often USPS employees seem to surpass their maximum working hours.

From what USPS employees indicate, the problem isn’t so much working more than 12 hours per day, but rather working more than 60 hours per week.

In cases where this happens, USPS employees have differing opinions.

Some say to refuse any hours over 60. Simply clock out, go home, and get paid for the full 8-hour shift you’re scheduled to work.

This day (and any remaining days of the week) are considered administrative leave.

Others note that a manager might mandate an employee to work more than 60 hours. If that’s the case, work the remaining hours and file a grievance after the fact.

To know more, you can also read our posts on USPS 2-day shipping, USPS 13 Oz Rule, and USPS customs form.


USPS’ 12 Hour Rule may seem simple and straightforward on the surface, but it’s actually full of nuances and exceptions. With that in mind, if you have any questions about your working hours, address them to your supervisor or union representative.

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Marques Thomas

Marques Thomas graduated with a MBA in 2011. Since then, Marques has worked in the retail and consumer service industry as a manager, advisor, and marketer. Marques is also the head writer and founder of

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