December 15, 2010

Workers’ compensation leave

Workers’ compensation leave
Sanders v NYC Human Resources Administration, 275 AD2d 873

Lavern Sanders, a probationary employee, filed an application for workers’ compensation benefits. She also asked for a leave of absence, based upon a physician’s note directing her to cease working. Eventually her leave request was approved through September 1992.

On September 8, 1992, Human Resources sent Sanders a letter advising her that her leave of absence had expired on September 8, 1992 and that any absence subsequent to that date was unauthorized. Another letter advised her that the city had decided to controvert her workers’ compensation claim. In effect, the city said that it did not believe that Sanders had been injured while performing her duties.

According to the decision, Sanders never received these letters because they had been returned to the city as unclaimed “due to the failure to specify [Sanders’] complete address on the envelopes.” Finally, on December 2, 1992, Sanders found out that she had been terminated by the city.*

However, when Sanders learned that the city had controverted her claim for workers’ compensation benefits, she appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Board. Her complaint: she had been terminated as retaliation for her having filed a workers’ compensation claim. Terminating an individual because he or she had filed a workers’ compensation claim, she argued, violated Section 120 of the Workers’ Compensation Law.

As evidence of such retaliation, Sanders alleged that her employer began fabricating disciplinary charges against her immediately following her application for [workers’ compensation] benefits.

Ultimately the Workers’ Compensation Board decided that Sanders failed to sustain her burden of demonstrating a prima facie case of discrimination and dismissed her complaint. The Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s determination.

As to approving other leave for Sanders, the decision states that a union official’s testimony indicated that the city generally does not authorize leaves of absences for probationary employees and will terminate any such employee who is on unauthorized leave so that a replacement may be hired to fill the position. Presumably, the testimony concerning the city’s not authorizing leave in such cases refers to a leave without pay such as leave pursuant to Section 72 of the Civil Service Law.

While Section 71 leave must be approved for employees injured on the job in situations where the injury or disability does not permanently incapacitate the individual from performing the duties of the position, Section 72 authorizes the approval of leaves without pay in the event the individual’s disability is not work-connected.

*
Presumably Sanders was not placed [or continued] on workers’ compensation leave as mandated by Section 71 of the Civil Service Law in view of the city’s controverting her claim that she had suffered a work-related injury.

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