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June 16, 2010

Termination of a probationer

Termination of a probationer
Johnson v City of New York, 281 A.D.2d 322

Elaine Johnson, a probationary employee, challenged her termination from her position as a Caseworker with the New York City Administration for Children's Services [ACS].

According to the decision, Johnson suffered a job-related injury while she was serving as a provisional Caseworker.

ACS permanently appointed Johnson to the position of Caseworker while she was on leave. Her permanent appointment was subject to her satisfactory completion of a one-year probationary period. Still on leave, Johnson was terminated from her position before completing her probationary period.

The Appellate Division upheld Johnson's termination, rejecting her allegation that she was terminated in retaliation for a complaint she had made while a provisional employee concerning her supervisors' communication skills.

The court said that there was "ample evidence of [Johnson's] unacceptable work performance as a provisional that her supervisors began to document before she made her complaint about them."

However, there are some troublesome aspects to this case.

According to the ruling, Johnson never actually performed any services as a Caseworker while a probationer -- she was absent on an authorized leave prior to and following her permanent appointment. ACS, said the court, relied on her "performance as a provisional in making its decision to terminate her permanent appointment.

Typically, a probationary period is extended if the individual is absent during his or her probationary period.

As to actually being evaluated on his or her performance while a probationer in contrast to his or her performance while serving in some other capacity -- i.e., as a temporary or provisional employee -- in Matter of DeCecca, 25 Misc2d 425, the court ruled that a probationary employee may not be dismissed until he or she has been given an opportunity to demonstrate his or her capacity to satisfactorily perform the duties of the position.

Finally, in York v McGuire, 63 NY2d 760, the Court of Appeals set out the basic rule concerning the dismissal of probationary employees as follows:

After completing his or her minimum period of probation and prior to completing his or her maximum period of probation, a probationary employee can be dismissed without a hearing and without a statement of reasons, as long as there is no proof that the dismissal was done for a constitutionally impermissible purpose, or in violation of statutory or decisional law, or made in bad faith.

The York decision is viewed as authority for requiring that a probationary employee be given administrative due process in the form of providing the employee with "notice and hearing" if the appointing authority decides to terminate the individual during his or her minimum period of probation.

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New York Public Personnel Law Blog Editor Harvey Randall served as Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service; Director of Personnel, SUNY Central Administration; Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. Consistent with the Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations, the material posted to this blog is presented with the understanding that neither the publisher nor NYPPL and, or, its staff and contributors are providing legal advice to the reader and in the event legal or other expert assistance is needed, the reader is urged to seek such advice from a knowledgeable professional.
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