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April 1, 2011

The approval of a leave of absence by individual not authorized to approve such leave is invalid

The approval of a leave of absence by individual not authorized to approve such leave is invalid

Renaud v City of New York, 269 AD2d 283

From time to time an individual is absent from work without approval – AWOL. What happens if the individual is absent after receiving approval to go on leave but the individual approving the leave is not authorized to grant such approval? This was an issue in the Renaud case.

Renaud was terminated because she was absent from her position without approval [AWOL] for three months. Renaud’s defense: one of the agency’s employee relations specialists approved the absence and therefore the agency cannot deem her to have been AWOL.

This seems to be an easy issue to decide, except although the employee relations specialist involved was not authorized to approve the leave in the first instance, the specialist was unaware that Renaud had been already referred for discipline because of her AWOL status.

May the employee rely on the unauthorized approval of her absence? This was the question considered by the Appellate Division when Leslie Renaud sued the Administration for Children’s Services in an effort to be reinstated to her position with the agency.

The court said that Children’s Services’ decision to terminate Renaud for a three-month absence without leave that was in flagrant violation of the agency’s time and leave rules was neither arbitrary nor capricious and sustained Children’s Services decision to terminate her.

What about Renaud’s claim that one of the agency’s employment relations specialists had approved her leave. In effect, Renaud contended Children’s Services was estopped from considering her absence AWOL since the employee relations specialist had approved it.

The Appellate Division quickly disposed of this argument. It said that estoppel is not available against an administrative agency for the purpose of ratifying administrative error.

Accordingly, Renaud could not rely on the approval of her leave by the employee relations specialist to neutralize the agency’s decision to dismiss her as the employee relations specialist was not authorized to grant any such approval on behalf of Children’s Services.
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