UPS plants fake packages to make sure drivers and staff are following the rules.
Current workers and former managers told Insider the practice is known as "SALTing" inside UPS.
Two UPS drivers said they've seen an uptick since the end of the holiday season.
Retail stores send secret shoppers to ensure employees are doing their jobs correctly — UPS sends SALT.
It's an acronym for Service Awareness Label Training — and it's been going on for decades. The term is used to reference decoy packages used to spot errors that workers are supposed to catch, like sending packages to the wrong place or mishandling dangerous materials, according to two former UPS managers and three current employees.
"The preload manager will put a random box in a trailer to make sure the guy that does the yard check, which means looking for packages in any of the trucks or trailers. The box says 'you've been SALTed,'" one UPS package handler in the Northeast told Insider.
Sometimes it's more subtle. Glenn Gooding, a manager for most of his 20+ years at UPS, told Insider he probably "SALTed" at least 10,000 times. Often he was testing whether staff was checking detail carefully to avoid sending packages way off course.
"There's a Portland, Oregon, and a Portland, Maine, right?" he said. "Maine instead of Oregon is a long ride for a package."
A driver from the West Coast told Insider he's seen fake boxes marked with hazardous material warnings to make sure those packages aren't loaded onto the wrong trucks. Other drivers said the most common use was planting fake packages in order to make sure packages that don't scan are returned to the delivery station.
Packages that don't scan are errors in the system that need correcting. They can also be easier to steal since they will simply show up as lost in the system. Amazon has a similar practice of planting "dummy" packages to find these errors and prevent theft.
"UPS conducts regular training activities designed to help our employees properly sort and load packages to ensure accurate, timely delivery to our customers," a UPS spokesperson told Insider via email.
Salty carrot or stick?
Gooding said in his UPS days, which ended in 2007, SALTing could be used as both carrot and stick — rewarding conscientious behavior and disciplining carelessness.
It's supposed to be a constant effort to catch simple mistakes and bad behavior, but managers often ramp up in areas struggling with performance, according to former managers and multiple workers.
"They do it when they're missing packages," the Northeast driver said. Getting caught taking the wrong action with SALT can lead to disciplinary action, like a write-up, or something more extreme like a termination process.
Two drivers in two different regions of the country told Insider there's been an uptick in 'SALTing' since the holiday season. "'No scans' was a major focus for UPS at the tail end of peak'" said a second Northeast driver. "It's most definitely a way for them to catch people doing something they shouldn't."
But the practice may soon go out of fashion entirely since UPS is working toward tracking every package with RFID tags.
"As we continue to eliminate the need for manual scans and implement RFID tags on packages, our employees' jobs will be made easier. That will also prevent misloading packages on our vehicles. Over time, it will also avoid the need for this kind of training, while increasing delivery accuracy, speed, and efficiency for our customers," the spokesperson said.
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