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Friday, July 09, 2010

Workers’ compensation leave pursuant to Civil Service Law Section 71

Workers’ compensation leave pursuant to Civil Service Law Section 71
Bryant v City of New York, App. Div., 3rd Dept, 252 A.D.2d 777, Motion for leave to appeal denied, 92 N.Y.2d 813

Section 71 of the Civil Service Law, commonly referred to as “workers’ compensation leave,” requires a public employer to give an employee who is injured on the job and as a result is unable to perform his or her duties a leave of absence for at least one year unless he or she is permanently disabled. The standard applied: the employee’s disability must result from an occupational injury or disease as defined in the Workers’ Compensation Law [WCL].

Many Taylor Law agreements provided for workers’ compensation leave, incorporating by reference the provisions of Section 71 of the Civil Service Law. However, not every injury or disease suffered at work that prevents an individual from performing the duties of the position is an “occupational injury or disease” within the meaning of WCL. As the Court of Appeals held in Mack v Rockland County, 71 NY2d 1008, for the purposes of determining eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits, “an occupational disease derives from the very nature of the employment, not a specific condition peculiar to the employee’s place of work.”

The Bryant case illustrates the fact that not every disease or injury arising in the work place is an occupational injury or disease for the purposes of receiving workers’ compensation benefits and thus such a claim does not automatically trigger eligibility for workers’ compensation leave.

Meridie Bryant, a word processor employed by the City of New York, applied for workers’ compensation benefits claiming that neck, shoulder and back ailments she suffered were caused by the physical layout of her work site and the chair in which she sat while at work. The Workers’ Compensation Board rejected her application on the grounds that she had not suffered an occupational injury or disease within the meaning of the Workers’ Compensation Law.

Byrant’s appeal from the Board’s ruling was rejected by the Appellate Division.

The court, citing the Court of Appeals’ decision in Mack, said that in order to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, the applicant “was required to demonstrate a recognizable link between the disease from which [he or] she allegedly suffers and some distinctive feature of [his or] her employment.”

The Appellate Division decided that Byrant’s condition related to her particular work area and not the “very nature of her employment.” Accordingly, the court upheld the Board’s determination rejecting Byrant’s workers’ compensation claim and dismissed her appeal.

The practical effect of this for the purposes of Section 71, however, is not as drastic as it might appear. Section 71 leave is provided as a leave without pay, although the employee may be continued on the payroll using his or her leave credits in order to continue to be paid.

If the individual viewed as being on workers’ compensation leave by the employer is later found not to have suffered an occupational injury or disease as was the situation in Bryant’s case, all that need be done is to amend the employee’s personnel record to show that he or she is on Section 72, rather than Section 71 leave.

Section 72 leave is available to an employee who is unable to perform his or her duties because of a disability other than a disability resulting from an occupational injury or disease as defined in WCL. Again employees are entitled to such a leave of absence without pay as a matter of law. As is the case in a Section 71 situation, “an employee on such leave of absence shall be entitled to draw all accumulated, unused sick leave, vacation, overtime and other time allowances standing to his [or her] credit” while on such leave.

There is, however, one significant difference between Section 71 leave and Section 72 leave. The one-year leave period allowed under Section 71 is determined on the basis of the individual’s cumulative absence while the minimum leave period under Section 72 is based on the employee’s consecutive absence for one year.

In other words, under Section 72, the employee may be terminated pursuant to Section 73 of the Civil Service Law if he or she has been absent from work for an uninterrupted period of at least one year. On the other hand, an employee absent on Section 71 leave may be terminate after he or she has been absent for a cumulative total of at least one year, even if such absences are intermittent whereby the employee returns to work and then goes on Section 71 leave again because of the same injury or disease.

It should be remembered that under both Section 71 and Section 72, separating an employee from service after the employee has been absent for the minimum period mandated for such leave is discretionary and the appointing authority is not required to terminate the employee.

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