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August 31, 2017

Filing disciplinary charges against an employee where the absence is due to an injury or disease


Filing disciplinary charges against an employee where the absence is due to an injury or disease
OATH Index No. 648/17

An appointing authority may serve an employee of the State* as the employer  with disciplinary charges alleging he or she is guilty of "excessive absence." It is typically inappropriate to do so, however, when the employee is eligible for Workers' Compensation Leave pursuant to §71 of the Civil Service Law or Leave for Ordinary Disability pursuant to §72 of the Civil Service Law.

Civil Service Law §71 provides for leaves of absence in the event an employee’s injury or disease is “work connected” and is typically referred to as “workers’ compensation leave. §72 of the Civil Service Law provides for leaves in situations where the employee’s injury or disease is not job related and is usually designated “leave for ordinary disability.” §73 of the Civil Service Law provides for the termination of an employee absent on §72 leave while termination of leave in §71 situations is authorized by §71 itself.**

Significantly neither termination pursuant to §71 nor §73 is pejorative in nature and the individual is eligible for reinstatement to his or her former position, or a similar position, upon timely application once the underlying cause of his or her absence abates.

a. Workers’ Compensation Leave, §71 of the Civil Service Law, “stands alone” with respect to placement on such leave and termination from, and subsequent reinstatement following such termination from §71;

b. Civil Service Law §72, Leave for Ordinary Disability, provides for such leave and reinstatement from such leave while §73 of the Civil Service Law provides for termination from a §72 leave and subsequent reinstatement after such termination; and

c. Termination from §71 or §72 leave once the minimum periods of such leaves are satisfied is at the discretion of the appointing authority.

It should be noted that although the employee must be absent on leave pursuant to §72 continuously for period of one year to trigger the appointing authority’s ability to elect to terminate the individual pursuant to §73, the appointing authority may, as an exercise of discretion, terminate an employee absent on §71 Worker’s Compensation Leave after he or she has been absent on such leave due to the same injury or disease for an “accumulative period” of one year or longer.

Further, where an employee is placed on §71 Workers’ Compensation Leave because of a disability resulting from an assault sustained in the course of his or her employment, he or she is entitled to a leave of absence for an “accumulative period” of at least two years.

In any event, neither §71 nor §72 requires the termination of the employee after he or she has been absent for the requisite minimum period of such a leave. Such termination effected as the result of an appointing authority's exercising a right of discretion to do so.

This issue was recently addressed by New York City Office of Administrative Tribunals and Hearings [OATH] Administrative Law Judge Kara J. Miller as the result of a New York City construction worker being charged with incompetence pursuant to §75 of the Civil Service Law due to "excessive absence."

The record, however, established that the employee's absence was due to an occupational injury which resulted in his being "out on worker’s compensation" for more than one year. ALJ Miller recommended that the worker be separated from employment pursuant to Civil Service Law §71 because his extended absence resulted exclusively from an occupational injury.

Indeed, in Gooshaw v Village of Massena, 216 AD2d 819, the Appellate Division said that it is inappropriate to file disciplinary charges against an individual who is unable to report for work because of his or her conceded disability.

* Although not all employees of the State are State officers, all officers of the State are employees of the State.

** See 4 NYCRR 21.3(e) and 4 NYCRR 21.8, both of which apply to employees of the State as an employer. Many local civil service commissions and personnel officers have adopted similar rules or regulations.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://archive.citylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/oath/17_cases/17-648.pdf

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