December 10, 2010

Loss of a required license or certification bars the incumbent from performing the duties of the position

Loss of a required license or certification bars the incumbent from performing the duties of the position
Agriculture and Markets v Public Employees Federation, App. Div., Third Dept., 277 AD2d 564

Holding a valid license is sometimes an essential element to performing the duties of the position. What happens if the employee losses his or her license?

This was the issue when Sahedou Ousman, an assistant farm products inspector assigned to inspect eggs pursuant to an agreement with the US Department of Agriculture [USDA] lost his Federal egg product inspection license.

According to the decision, Ousman’s license was revoked by the USDA because of his failure to consistently follow instructions, adhere to established procedures and repeated instances of tardiness and unauthorized absences from his place of employment during his normal tour of duty.

Agriculture and Markets [A&M] terminated Ousman’s employment on the grounds that his loss of his license resulted in his being unqualified to perform the duties of an assistant farm products inspector.

A&M, pursuant to an agreement with the Public Employees Federation, Ousman’s collective bargaining representative, subsequently reinstated him. It then placed Ousman on administrative leave and initiated disciplinary action against him under the contract disciplinary procedure set out in a Taylor Law agreement.

The charge: incompetence in that he failed to maintain his Federal egg product inspection license that was required for his continued employment as an egg inspector.

Ultimately an arbitrator ruled that the Federal egg product inspection license was not a prerequisite for the position of an assistant farm products inspector and there were employment opportunities within that title to which Ousman could have been assigned that did not require Federal licensure at that time. The arbitrator’s conclusion: Ousman should not have been terminated.

The arbitrator’s ruling is consistent with the court’s ruling in the Lekkas case [Martin ex rel Lekkas, 86 AD2d 712]. Here the issue concerned Lekkas’ lack of license to practice medicine in New York State although he had been appointed to the position of Assistant Clinical Physician with a State agency. In Lekkas the Appellate Division ruled that although an employee who does not possess a valid license required to perform the duties of the position may be summarily discharged without notice and hearing, it determined that Lekkas was performing administrative duties rather than practicing medicine. Thus, said the court, Lekkas was not required by law to hold a license to practice medicine even though he held the title Assistant Clinical Physician. Accordingly, he could not be summarily removed from the position merely because he was not a licensed physician.

The arbitrator directed A&M to restore Ousman to pay status with all rights and benefits effective July 1, 1997, back pay to be adjusted to reflect any income or unemployment compensation benefits received since that time.

The decision also directed A&M to offer Ousman the next available position within title or, in the alternative, continue him on paid administrative leave and file charges against him based upon his unsatisfactory performance of his duties as a State employee prior to April 15, 1997.

The Appellate Division rejected A&M’s attempt to annul the arbitration award on the grounds that the award was wholly irrational and violated a fundamental public policy regarding civil service appointment requirements and the State’s compelling interest in ensuring a safe food supply to the public.

Noting that the notice of discipline filed by A&M limited the arbitrator’s inquiry to whether Ousman’s loss of his Federal license rendered him unqualified to perform the duties of an assistant farm products inspector warranting his dismissal, the Appellate Division ruled that the arbitrator’s determination did not require A&M to reinstate Ousman to another food inspection position since it allowed it the alternative of continuing Ousman on administrative leave and filing the appropriate disciplinary charge reflecting his general incompetence and lack of qualifications for any position within his title of employment.

The Appellate Division’s conclusion: the arbitration award simply extends to Ousman the protection of the collective bargaining agreement that A&M agrees is applicable and cannot be said to be violative of any strong public policy or the State constitutional mandate that civil service appointments be based on merit.

It is well settled that where a statute requires an individual to have a valid license or certification or permit in order to practice his or her profession or duties, the loss, expiration, revocation or failure to obtain or maintain the required license or certification or permit in a timely fashion means that the individual is not authorized to perform the duties of the position as a matter of law.

For example, the courts have little difficulty in upholding the immediate suspension of a teacher without pay where the educator is unable to present a valid license or certification when asked to do so.

Although such a person may continue to be qualified to perform the duties of the position, he or she is typically barred from doing so unless and until a valid license or permit is obtained. In such situations the courts have upheld the employer summarily suspending the employee without pay as was the case in Meliti v Nyquist, 41 NY2d 183. The rationale in such cases: it is unlawful to continue a tenured but unlicensed teacher on the payroll as he or she is barred from performing his or her teaching duties and to retain such a person on the payroll as a teacher would constitute an unconstitutional gift of public monies.

There is nothing, however, that would prevent the appointing authority from placing such an individual in another position for which he or she is qualified and for which a license is not required as an alternative to dismissal or removal from the payroll.

Another common situations that result in a bar to continued employment in a position: the expiration, suspension or revocation of a driver’s license when the duties of the position require the incumbent of the position to drive a motor vehicle.
NYPPL

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