Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Refusing to accept the resignation submitted by an employee


Refusing to accept the resignation submitted by an employee
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17,007

In this appeal to the Commissioner of Education, the petitioner [Petitioner] challenged a school district’s rejection of his resignation from his probationary appointment and its subsequent terminating him from his position instead. He asked the Commissioner to direct the district to either [1] rescind his appointment as a probationary employee or, in the alternative, [2] to accept Petitioner’s previously tendered letter of resignation.

The Commissioner said that as a general rule, "... a board of education has the unfettered right to terminate a probationary teacher or administrator’s employment for any reason, unless the employee establishes that he or she was terminated for a constitutionally impermissible reason or in violation of a statutory proscription or decisional law.”

Addressing the merits of Petitioner’s appeal the Commissioner said that “In an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief.”

Here, said the Commissioner, Petitioner failed to allege that his termination from his probationary appointment was for an unconstitutional reason or in violation of any statute. Accordingly, the Commissioner ruled that Petitioner “failed to meet his burden” and dismissed his appeal. Thus, in this instance, the school district’s records would record Petitioner’s separation from employment as a “probationary termination” rather than a “resignation” from his position. 

Technically, in this instance the school district elected to ignore Petitioner's resignation rather than refuse it as an appointing authority may not “refuse to accept” a resignation tendered by an officer or an employee and the resignation becomes operative upon its delivery to the appointing authority. Indeed, the officer or employee usually may not withdraw or rescind his or her resignation once it has been delivered to the appointing authority without the approval of the appointing authority. 

Although an appointing authority may acknowledge the "receipt" of a resignation received from an officer or an employee or report that an individual's resignation has been accepted, all that is required for a resignation to become operative is its delivery to the appointing authority. In other words, the approval or acceptance of the resignation is not required for the resignation to take effect  unless specific acceptance of a resignation is required by law, rule, regulation or the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (see Hazelton v Connelly, 25 NYS2d 74).

As an example of a situation where the acceptance of a resignation is mandated by statute, §2111 of the Education Law provides that an officer of a school district may "resign at a district meeting" or, in the alternative, the officer "shall also be deemed to have resigned if he filed a written resignation with the district superintendent of his district and such superintendent endorses thereon his approval and files the same with the district clerk" [emphasis supplied].

In contrast to "refusing to accept a resignation," an appointing authority may elect to disregard the resignation submitted by the individual under certain circumstances.

For example, 4 NYCRR 5.3(b), which applies to employees of the State as the employer  provides that in the event “… charges of incompetency or misconduct have been or are about to be filed against an employee, the appointing authority may elect to disregard a resignation filed by such employee and to prosecute such charges and, in the event that such employee is found guilty of such charges and dismissed from the service, his [or her] termination shall be recorded as a dismissal rather than as a resignation."

Another example: §1133.1 of the State Education Law provides that “[a] school administrator or superintendent shall not make any agreement to withhold from law enforcement authorities, the superintendent or the commissioner, where appropriate, the fact that an allegation of child abuse in an educational setting on the part of any employee or volunteer as required by [Article 23-B of the Education Law] in return for the resignation or voluntary suspension from his or her position of such person, against whom the allegation is made."

Presumably an appointing authority could elect to disregard an employee's “retirement” from his or her position under similar circumstances [See Mari v.Safir, 291 AD2d 298, leave to appeal denied, 98 NY2d 61].
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