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June 7, 2013

An individual seeking workers’ compensation benefits must show that any subsequent reduction in his or her earnings was related to his or her compensable injuries

An individual seeking workers’ compensation benefits must show that any subsequent reduction in his or her earnings was related to his or her compensable injuries
2013 NY Slip Op 03537, Appellate Division, Third Department

A school principal suffered work-related injuries to his ankle, knee and back. The principal filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits [the school district was self-insured] which was not controverted, but he did not begin to receive any such benefits as the school district continued to pay him his salary.

Some time later the principal received a letter from the school district notifying him that he had been denied tenure and he then submitted a letter of resignation, effective the last day of the school year. The principal never returned to work but subsequently secured a teaching position in Florida at a substantially reduced salary effective at the beginning the new school year.

The principal sought workers' compensation benefits as of the effective date of his resignation.  A Workers' Compensation Law Judge ruled that the principal “was entitled to lost earnings and reduced earnings payments" commencing June 30.

The Workers' Compensation Board, however, modified that determination, concluding that principal had “ceased working for reasons unrelated to his disability and failed to demonstrate that his reduction in earnings was causally related to his compensable injuries and, thus, he was not entitled to awards subsequent to June 30.”

The Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s ruling, explaining that when employment is lost due to factors other than a compensable injury, the claimant bears the burden of establishing that his or her disability contributed to any subsequent reduction in earnings.

In this case, said the court, substantial evidence supports the Board's threshold determination that the principal 's employment ended for reasons unrelated to his disability as he had testified that upon receiving the letter advising that he had been denied tenure, he resigned his position to avoid having the inevitable termination on his employment record. As his resignation letter gave no indication that his resignation was in any way related to his disabilities, it became the principal’s burden to demonstrate that any subsequent reduction in his earnings was due, at least in part, to his disability. This, said the court, he failed to show.

Another factor: the principal had also testified that during his job search subsequent to resignation he applied and interviewed for a school principal position that was no different than the job he performed for the school district nor did he inform that prospective employer — or any other potential employer during the course of his search — about any restrictions due to his disability. In addition, said the court, the principal indicated that it was rather difficult to secure a position in education in New York, which ultimately led him to accept a teaching position in Florida, where it was easier to obtain employment.

In the words of the Appellate Division: “Thus, claimant's own testimony established that his reduction in earnings was not caused, even in part, by his disability, but rather by other economic factors; thus, we decline to disturb the Board's decision.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


NEW YORK PUBLIC PERSONNEL LAW ELECTRONIC HANDBOOKS

The Discipline Book - A concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public officers and employees in New York State. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - Determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service found guilty of misconduct or incompetence. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/7401.html

Disability Benefits for fire, police and other public sector personnel - Addresses retirement for disability under the NYS Employees' Retirement System, the NYS Teachers' Retirement System, General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and similar statutes providing benefits to employees injured both "on-the-job" and "off-the-job." For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html

The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual -Focusing on relevant laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5216.html

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Text prepared by Harvey Randall except as otherwise noted. Randall, former Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service, also served as Director of Personnel for the State University System; as Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and as Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. He has an MPA from the Maxwell School, Syracuse University and a J.D. from Albany Law School.