The Postal Service is offering a round of early retirements–although not accompanied by buyout offers–to some 26,000 employees, with those who accept having to leave by the end of either January, February or March depending on which phase they are in.

The early-out “process requires very careful thinking on the part of eligible employees,” says a fact sheet issued by USPS about the offers, which postal unions say came on such short notice that employees will have little time for such thinking.

In recent years USPS has offered several rounds of early retirements and buyouts–along with not filling vacancies from normal attrition–as it reduced employment in response to its financial problems, falling to about 500,000 career employees, down more than 100,000 from its peak. The buyouts it did offer in some cases were below the $25,000 maximum that then applied government-wide (DoD since has received authority to offer up to $40,000).

Under early retirement authority, employees may retire on immediate benefits if they are at least 50 years old with at least 20 years of service, or at any age with at least 25 years (there would be a reduction in the annuity for those relative few who are under CSRS and under 55 years old).

Because USPS operates separately from the federal budget its offer does not necessarily signal that more are ahead from other agencies. Buyout and early retirement offers were widely expected last year due to budgetary pressures but as it turned out only a few agencies made such offers, as political leaders largely continued funding at levels that had been set during the Obama administration.