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Saturday, September 30, 2017

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced the following audits and reports were issued during the week ending September 30, 2017


New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced the following audits and reports were issued during the week ending September 30, 2017
Source: Office of the State Comptroller

Click on text highlighted in color  to access the full report

Audit Recommends Improved Oversight of Nurse Licensing by State Education Department

The State Education Department should improve its process to investigate serious complaints against nurses and more actively monitor professional misconduct, according to an auditby New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

State Comptroller DiNapoli Announces Latest Fiscal Stress Scores

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System has designated 27 municipalities across the state as fiscally stressed. The list, which includes eight counties, eight cities and 11 towns, marks the fewest number of municipalities listed in stress since DiNapoli implemented his early-warning system in 2013. 

The Erie Canal: Celebrating 200 Years of a National Landmark 
This year is the 200th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the Erie Canal. The Office of the State Comptroller played a key role in overseeing the funds for the building of the Erie Canal, which took eight years to complete initially at a cost of $7 million, an enormous undertaking at the time. Starting in 1817, the State Comptroller served on the Canal’s Board of Commissioners, which was responsible for transacting all canal business; later, the duty of auditing the Canal’s accounts was assigned to the Comptroller’s office. The Canal contributed to the rise of New York City as a global financial capital and energized the state's economy.



Friday, September 29, 2017

A court's review of an administrative decision made after an adversarial hearing is limited to considering if the decision is supported by substantial evidence


A court's review of an administrative decision made after an adversarial hearing is limited to considering if the decision is supported by substantial evidence
2017 NY Slip Op 04447, Appellate Division, Second Department

The Commissioner of the City of Mount Vernon Police Department, after a disciplinary hearing conducted pursuant to §75 of the Civil Service Law, found the employee [Petitioner] guilty of certain disciplinary charges and imposed the penalty of termination. Petitioner initiated an Article 78 action challenging the Commissioner's determination.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Commissioner's action and dismissed the proceeding "on the merits, with costs."

The court explained that "Judicial review of an administrative determination made after a hearing at which evidence is taken pursuant to direction of law is limited to a consideration of whether that determination was supported by substantial evidence upon the whole record."

Citing Berenhaus v Ward, 70 NY2d 436, the Appellate Division said that in the event there is conflicting evidence in the record or different inferences can be drawn from the evidence in the record, "the duty of weighing the evidence and making the choice rests solely upon the [administrative agency]. The courts may not weigh the evidence or reject the choice made by [such agency] where the evidence is conflicting and room for choice exists."

Here, said the court, "any credibility issues were resolved by the Commissioner and we find no basis upon which to disturb the determination, which was supported by substantial evidence."

Addressing the penalty imposed on the employee by the Commissioner, termination, the Appellate Division applied the so-called "Pell Doctrine," Matter of Pell v Board of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1 of Towns of Scarsdale & Mamaroneck, Westchester County, 34 NY2d 222, and held that "the penalty of termination of [Petitioner's] employment was not so disproportionate to the offense committed as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - The text of this publication focuses on determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service in instances where the employee has been found guilty of misconduct or incompetence. Now available in two formats - as a large, paperback print edition, and as an e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/7401.html
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Thursday, September 28, 2017

The United State Supreme Court's 2017 October Term - selected cases


The United State Supreme Court's 2017 October Term - selected cases  
Source: Justia

Below are selected cases of the 29 scheduled to be considered by the United States Supreme Court during its October 2017 term that may be of particular interest to those involved in or with the public sector:

Justia Daily Opinion Summaries is a free service, with 68 different newsletters, covering every federal appellate court and the highest courts of all US states. Justia also provides weekly practice area newsletters in 63 different practice areas.*
Click on text highlighted in color  to access the full report

Carpenter v. United States A case in which the Court will determine whether the warrantless seizure and search of cell phone records revealing the location and movements of a cell phone user over the course of 127 days violates the Fourth Amendment.

Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association A case in which the Court will decide whether a federal statute that prohibits modification or repeal of state-law prohibitions on private conduct impermissibly commandeers the regulatory power of states in contravention of New York v. United States.

Gill v. Whitford A case in which the Court will decide whether partisan gerrymandering claims are justiciable, and whether the district court erred in striking down Wisconsin’s redistricting plan as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

* All daily and weekly Justia newsletters are free. You may subscribe to one or more newsletters clicking on daily.justia.com.


Selected reports posted in Employment Law News by WK Workday


Selected reports posted in Employment Law News by WK Workday 
Source: Wolters Kulwer

Selected reports posted by WK Workday during the week ending September, 22, 2017

Click on text highlighted in color to access the full report 

Kraft retirees had no vested right to health care benefits beyond termination of CBAs
Posted: 21 Sep 2017 12:09 PM PDT

In a number of recent court decisions, it has consistently been determined that collective bargaining agreements do not provide a source for lifetime medical benefits for retirees and their surviving spouses and beneficiaries if there is not explicit contractual language stating that such benefits survive expiration of the agreement. However, in a recent decision, Gruss v. Kraft Heinz Foods Co., Inc., Kraft retirees sought to establish that the company violated ERISA when it terminated retiree health care benefits for former hourly workers.


Posted: 21 Sep 2017 06:36 AM PDT

Evidence that an employer changed the criteria for a position midway through the hiring process, relied on subjective justifications for selecting white candidates over an African-American applicant, and provided a shifting explanation for the selection decision supported an inference of pretext sufficient to deny summary judgment against the applicant’s Title VII race discrimination claim, a federal court in the District of Columbia ruled. His retaliation claim, which was based on an anonymous complaint he made four years earlier about what he viewed as a racist video, failed however (Casselle v. Chao, September 15, 2017, Boasberg, J.).


Posted: 20 Sep 2017 07:03 AM PDT

An employee fired shortly after telling his supervisor he had PTSD could not establish pretext for disability discrimination by pointing to, among other things, his recent positive performance evaluations or a relatively minor misstatement in the employer’s EEOC position statement. Nor did the fact that the decisionmakers questioned the veracity of his PTSD claim show that the stated reason for discharging him—creating a hostile and intimidating work environment for his subordinates—was pretextual, the Seventh Circuit ruled, affirming summary judgment against his ADA and Rehab Act claims (Monroe v. Indiana Department of Transportation, September 18, 2017, Williams, A.).

Posted: 20 Sep 2017 06:58 AM PDT

Reversing summary judgment to a county employer on only one of several FLSA claims for unpaid pre- and post-shift work, the Tenth Circuit found that a 911 dispatcher presented sufficient evidence for a jury to find that the county had to compensate her for the undisputedly integral and indispensable activity of being briefed by the outgoing dispatcher, which according to written policy, she was required to be at work five minutes before her shift began to receive. In an unpublished two-judge decision (now-Justice Neil Gorsuch had been on the panel for oral argument, but the remaining two panel judges were in agreement and so could act as a quorum to resolve the appeal), the court found this pre-shift activity was both ascertainable—five minutes per shift, per policy—and a “fixed or regular working time,” and a “practically ascertainable period of time [s]he is regularly required to spend on duties” so that it could not be disregarded as de minimis (Jimenez v. Board of County Commissioners of Hidalgo County, September14, 2017, per curiam).


Posted: 19 Sep 2017 07:11 AM PDT

Even assuming that a city manager had notified the city council that she was going on FMLA leave when she told them she was having foot surgery and would be able to work from home while recovering, her employer could fire her without unlawfully interfering with the FMLA as long as the reason for her termination was not because she was on leave. This it did, said the Sixth Circuit in affirming summary judgment for the city, because the employer demonstrated a legitimate reason for terminating her—it cited her role in “causing political strife in the community.” Moreover, it was questionable that she had provided FMLA notice since there was evidence she refused to take and complete the city’s FMLA forms, and it was suggested that she was only going to take a few days off and work from home. She also had no evidence of pretext (Mullendore v. City of Belding, released August 23, 2017, redesignated as published September 15, 2017, Batchelder, A.).

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A public employee's misconduct while "off-duty" may result in disciplinary action being initiated against the employee by his or her appointing authority


A public employee's misconduct while "off-duty" may result in disciplinary action being initiated against the employee by his or her appointing authority 
Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings [OATH], Index No.1229/17

An appointing authority may bring disciplinary charges pursuant to §75 of the Civil Service Law for alleged off-duty misconduct or its statutory or contractual equivalent "where there is a sufficient nexus between the misconduct and the employing agency."* 

In this disciplinary action, OATH Administrative Law Judge Ingrid M. Addison found:

1. The employee, a peace officer, attempted to have forcible sexual intercourse, a criminal act inherently contrary to the law enforcement responsibilities of peace officers, and had pled guilty to Assault in the Third Degree, a Class A misdemeanor.

2. The appointing authority established a nexus between the employee’s off-duty misconduct and his job as "a law enforcement officer whose criminal conviction runs contra to his [or her] law enforcement duties. "

3. The disciplinary charges filed against the employee by the appointing authority were  appropriate for his proven off-duty misconduct.

Judge Addison said that "this tribunal has generally applied the principles of progressive discipline, which aims to achieve employee behavior modification through increasing penalties for repeated or similar misconduct."

Noting that the employee had not previously been served with disciplinary charges, the ALJ explained that even absent a history of prior discipline, peace officers who engage in violent off-duty misconduct with or without a resulting criminal conviction may be terminated. In addition Judge Addison observed that "for off-duty misconduct, we have imposed penalties which have been commensurate with the level of misconduct and have included termination."

Accordingly, Judge Addison recommended that the employee be terminated from his employment having been found guilty of off-duty misconduct in attempting to engage in forcible sexual intercourse with his former girlfriend and causing her physical injury while doing so.***

* See, for example, Zazycki v City of Albany, 94 A.D.2d 925, Motion for leave to appeal denied, 60 N.Y.2d 558 

** The employee was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge, and a five-year Order of Protection was issued against him. 

*** The appointing authority adopted the recommendation of the ALJ and terminated the employee from his position and the appointing authority's determination is appended to the text of the ALJ's findings and recommendation.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: 
http://archive.citylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/oath/17_cases/17-1229.pdf

_____________________________

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - The text of this publication focuses on determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service in instances where the employee has been found guilty of misconduct or incompetence. Now available in two formats - as a large, paperback print edition, and as an e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/7401.html

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Procedures to be followed by school boards seeking to contract for expert consultant services


Procedures to be followed by school boards seeking to contract for expert consultant services
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17,188

Among the several issues certain residents and taxpayers of the district [Applicants] raised in an appeal to the Commissioner of Education were challenges to the board’s adoption of a resolution provided for contracting with a consultant, Barbara J. Smith, on the recommendation of the district’s audit committee to serve as its external auditor to assist the district in coming into compliance with applicable State requirements by implementing proper budgetary development and monitoring procedures.* 

The Applicants contended that:

[1] The audit committee violated Education Law §2116-c by recommending the hiring of a consultant;

[2] Certain members of the school board had acted in violation of Education Law §1613 in soliciting and engaging a consultant without seeking competitive bids;

[3] The vote of certain board members approving a resolution to “suspend the District policy that requires the Superintendent’s recommendation for the [school board] to hire a consultant” justifies their removal from office and

[4] The school board's hiring of the consultant encroached upon the exclusive authority of the superintendent, in violation of Education Law §1711.

Addressing the contract issue raised in this appeal concerning the board's not seeking "competitive bid" for the consulting services required, the Commissioner observed that the board sought to obtain the professional skills and knowledge of a consultant**to provide training, assistance, and mentoring to the district’s business official relating to the budget development, fiscal monitoring, and reporting. 

As the contract to retain the consultant to provided such types of professional services, the Commissioner said that it was not subject to "the sealed competitive bidding requirements of General Municipal Law §103." Consequently, the Commissioner explained, entering into a contract for professional services without competitive bidding does not violate Education Law §1619. As "professional services contracts" are outside the scope of competitive bidding, the Commissioner said that they "need not be awarded to the lowest bidder provided that the award is in the best interest of the taxpayers."

The Commissioner noted that General Municipal Law §104-b requires a board to adopt policies and procedures to govern the procurement of goods and services not subject to competitive bidding and further such procedures must contain, among other things, a requirement that proposals “be secured by use of written requests for proposals, written quotations, verbal quotations, or any other method of procurement which furthers the purposes of the section.” In this instance Board Policy 6741 set out the process for securing professional services, including the preparation of a request for proposals [REP].

Turning to the Applicants' complaint that certain board members had violated Policy 6741 as the basis for their removal from office, the Commissioner said that "it is well settled that, even if proven, violation of a board’s bylaws or policies, by itself, is not a sufficient basis for removal of a member of a board of education in a proceeding pursuant to Education Law §306."

In contrast, the Commissioner noted that "a violation of board policy may be used as evidence of willfulness of such conduct" and school district officers can only be removed under §306 when they engage in a "willful violation or neglect of duty," i.e.,"a purpose or intent to disregard a lawful duty or to violate a legal requirement" while "[m]ere negligence on the part of a school officer is not enough to warrant removal."

In this instance the Commissioner found that the acts about which Applicants complain "do not rise to the level of willful misconduct and, thus, on the record before me, [Applicants] have failed to demonstrate that [the board members named by Applicants] engaged in a willful violation or neglect of duty.” 

While noting that the board may not have processed the employment of the Consultant as may have been otherwise required by its policies, the Commissioner found that the process followed by the board in this regard "substantially furthered the purpose of General Municipal Law §104-b."

Finally, the Commissioner concluded that no evidence in the record supported a finding that the board members Applicants sought to have removed from office willfully violated the law or neglected their duty, the standard that must be met for removing a board member from office.

The Commissioner concluded her decision with the following statement: "Although I am constrained to deny this application for removal and dismiss this appeal, I admonish respondent board to fully comply with the procedures established in all applicable board policies in the future."

* Applicants had sought "interim relief ... to restrain the board from enforcing the resolution passed by the board to hire the Consultant, which request was denied by the Commissioner.

** The consultant selected by the board was a former audit manager with an accounting firm and former Chief Financial and Operating Officer for the City School District of the City of Buffalo,

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Determining the amount of the General Municipal Law §207-a (2) supplement payable to a firefighter upon his or her retirement for disability because of a work related injury or disease

 
Determining the amount of the General Municipal Law §207-a (2) supplement payable to a firefighter upon his or her retirement for disability because of  a work related injury or disease
Fennelly v Eastchester Fire Dist., 2017 NY Slip Op 06533, Appellate Division, Second Department


General Municipal Law §207-a(1), in pertinent part, provides that a paid firefighter of an organized fire company or fire department of a city of less than one million population, or town, village or fire district, "who is injured in the performance of his duties or who is taken sick as a result of the performance of his duties so as to necessitate medical or other lawful remedial treatment, shall be paid by the municipality or fire district by which he is employed the full amount of his regular salary or wages until his disability arising therefrom has ceased." In effect, the firefighter is placed on sick leave at full pay until he or she returns to full duty or "light duty" with his or her employer, retires, dies, is found ineligible to continue to receive such compensation or retires.

General Municipal Law §207-a (2) provides, in pertinent part, for discontinuing the payment of the full amount of regular salary or wages with respect to any firefighter continued on the payroll pursuant §207-a(1) who is permanently disabled as a result of an injury or sickness incurred or resulting from the performance of his or her duties "in the event the firefighter is granted an accidental disability retirement allowance pursuant to section three hundred sixty-three of the retirement and social security law, a retirement for disability incurred in performance of duty allowance pursuant to section three hundred sixty-three-c of the retirement and social security law or similar accidental disability pension provided by the pension fund of which he is a member...."

§207-a(2), however, then mandates that the firefighter so retired "shall continue to receive from the municipality or fire district by which he [or she] is employed, until such time as he [or she] shall have attained the mandatory service retirement age applicable to him [or her] or shall have attained the age or performed the period of service specified by applicable law for the termination of his [or her] service, the difference between the amounts received under such allowance or pension and the amount of his [or her] regular salary or wages."*

In this CPLR Article 78 action the Appellate Division was asked to review a determination by the Board of Fire Commissioners of the Eastchester Fire District [Eastchester] that reflected the findings and recommendations "of a hearing officer, made after a hearing," that the petitioner, Keith E. Fennelly, Eastchester's retired former fire chief, "was not entitled to supplemental wage increases pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a(2) and that Eastchester was entitled to recoup 'overpayments' made to [Fennelly] since 2005."

The court held that [1] Fennelly was not entitled to the supplemental wage increases, i.e. payments reflecting "the difference between the amount received under such allowance or pension and the amount of his [or her] regular salary or wages"* but [2] Eastchester was not  entitled to recoup any "overpayments" it made to Fennelly since 2005. The court "otherwise dismissed" Fennelly's petition "on the merits."

The court explained that Eastchester's determination that Fennelly was not entitled to increases in the supplemental benefits he was paid pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a(2) based upon the salary increases given to Eastchester's current fire chief was supported by substantial evidence. The evidence, said the court, "demonstrated that the salary paid to each fire chief is determined by the Board, and is based on the particular experience, education, and performance of the fire chief, as opposed to firefighters who receive salary increases pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement."

As to Eastchester recouping "past overpayments" from Fennelly, the Appellate Division, citing Matter of Masullo v City of Mount Vernon, 141 AD3d 95, said that "[t]here is no evidence that [Eastchester] had a process or application procedure in place at the time [Fennelly] was paid the section 207-a(2) benefits and, therefore, there can be no finding that the prior payments were improper so as to justify recoupment."

Note: NYPPL, after reviewing this decision, is of the opinion that although Fennelly may not be entitled to increases in the supplemental benefit  pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a(2) in the amount of "the salary increases given to [Eastchester's] current fire chief," to the extent Fennelly's does not receive adjustments in the nature of a supplement to his retirement allowance or pension consistent with the reasons**and procedures described below, Eastchester is not in compliance with the mandates set out in §207-a(2) with respect to the payment of the "difference between the amounts received under such allowance or pension and the amount of his [or her] regular salary or wages:"

1. In Pease v Colucci, 59 A.D.2d 233, the court said that "Section 207-a of the General Municipal Law is a remedial statute enacted for the benefit of [firefighters] and should be liberally construed in their favor."

2. §207-a(1) provides that a firefighter suffering an injury or disease in the line of duty is to remain on the employer's payroll and receive "his [or her] compensation as long as he [or she] has not recovered from his [or her] injury," even if he or she remains unable to return to duty, in whole or in part, as a result of such injury or disease for the rest of his or her life. Such compensation must include any subsequent raises in salary given to those in the same grade or title held by the injured firefighter at the time of his or her injury.

3. In the event the firefighter retires, or is retired pursuant to an application filed on his or her behalf  by his or her employer as authorized by §207-a(2) and, as a result, is removed from the employer's payroll, §207-a(2) mandates that the retired firefighter's employer pay him or her the difference between the amount he or she receives as a retirement allowance or pension and the amount of his or her regular salary or wages he or she would have received had he or she remained on the employer's payroll and not retired. Such payments by the employer,  periodically adjusted to reflect any increases in salary or compensation paid to those in the same grade or title held by the injured firefighter at the time of his or her injury, are to be paid to the retired firefighter until he or she has attained the controlling mandatory age of retirement, dies or is found to be ineligible to receive his or her retirement allowance or pension.

In consideration of points [1], [2] and [3] above, and in view of Fennelly's particular situation with respect to the determination of the annual salary to be paid a fire chief upon his or her initial appointment by Eastchester following Fennelly's retirement for disability:

     [a] The amount of Fennelly's §207-a(2) mandated supplement to be paid by Eastchester initially should be determined based on the difference between his retirement allowance or pension and his annual salary immediately prior to the effective date of his retirement and any subsequent §207-a(2) payments reflecting the difference between the amounts received under such allowance or pension and the amount of his regular salary or wages should be determined so as to increase Eastchester's payments to supplement Fennelly's retirement allowance or pension that would provide

     [b] an equivalent to the percentage increase of any subsequent increase or increases in the annual salary paid to a successor incumbent fire chief following his or her initial appointment to the position based on Eastchester's representation that each such successor's annual salary at the time of his or her initial appointment "is based on the particular experience, education and performance of the appointee;" and

     [c] such supplement and adjustments to such supplements are to be paid by Eastchester to Fennelly until Fennelly attains the "mandatory age of retirement" set by the relevant provision of the Retirement and Social Security Law or his retirement allowance or pension ceases to be paid to him, whichever event first occurs.

* General Municipal Law §207-c(2), which applies to law enforcement personnel, tracks the provisions of §207-a(2) except that it does not provide for the employer's supplementing the individual's retirement allowance or pension in an amount equal to the "difference between the amounts received under such allowance or pension and the amount of his [or her] regular salary or wages."

** There are additional reasons and case law supporting NYPPL's views in this regard that have not been included in this "Note".

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_06533.htm




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Disability Benefits for fire, police and other public sector personnel - an e-book focusing on 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

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced the following audits and reports were issued during the week ending September 23, 2017


New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced the following audits and reports were issued during the week ending September 23, 2017 
Source: Office of the State Comptroller

Click on text highlighted in color  to access the full report

Audit of State Agencies Recommends Better Tracking of Food Purchases from Local Farmers
The Department of Agriculture and Markets and the Office of General Services are now directing all state agencies to submit better reporting of their purchases of New York produced foods according to an auditby State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli found numerous problems.
 


 Former Treasurer Arrested in Village of Millport Theft
Former Village of Millport Treasurer Dawn Haverley was arrested for felony grand larceny after an investigation and audit found she allegedly stole more than $4,000 in public funds.



New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced his office completed audits of the 

Town of Carlisle – Fund Balance (Schoharie County)
The board has not developed a fund balance policy or comprehensive long-term financial and capital plans specifying the town"s objectives and goals for using accumulated funds. General fund balance totaled $623,000 at the end of 2016, more than 950 percent of the tax levy and approximately three times actual expenditures that year. 


Keeseville Volunteer Fire Department – Financial Operations (Clinton County)
Department officials did not deposit or account for all donations received or deposit money received from fundraisers and lounge sales. Deposits totaling approximately $158,300 were not supported by adequate documentation. Department officials did not approve 499 disbursements totaling $63,010 before payment was made. 


City of Niagara Falls – Financial Condition (Niagara County)
The city did not maintain a multiyear financial plan and has continued to rely on unreliable revenues and one-time funding sources. From fiscal years 2014 through 2017, city officials balanced the budget using primarily casino revenue, averaging $9 million, and fund balance, averaging $2.9 million. By the end of 2017, auditors project that the city will deplete available fund balance. Assuming no additional casino revenue is received, the city will have a projected general fund budget gap of $12 million for 2019.


Village of Sagaponack – Claims Processing (Suffolk County)
The board did not perform an effective claims audit or establish an adequate process to ensure that transactions were properly authorized and approved, complied with statutory or village requirements or that claims were for proper village purposes. As a result, the board does not have adequate assurance that goods and services are purchased at the best price.




Friday, September 22, 2017

Determining a claimant's exclusion with respect to his or her eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits pursuant to Labor Law §565(2)(d)


Determining a claimant's exclusion with respect to his or her eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits pursuant to Labor Law §565(2)(d) 
Matter of Clemons (Village of Freeport--Commissioner of Labor), 2017 NY Slip Op 04333, Appellate Division, Third Department

Labor Law §565[2], in pertinent part, provides for certain exclusions from eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits. In addition to services not included pursuant to the provisions of §511 the Labor Law, the term "employment" does not include services rendered for a governmental entity by a person serving on a temporary basis in case of fire, storm, snow, earthquake, flood or similar emergency.

The Village of Freeport, Nassau County, [Village] sustained extensive damage as a result of Hurricane Sandy and was declared a major disaster by federal, state and local governments and ultimately received federal funding to assist it with its clean-up and restoration efforts. Village hired two individuals [Claimants] as temporary laborers to help with these clean-up and restoration efforts.

Following the end of their employment by the Village, Claimants filed applications for unemployment insurance benefits, and, over Freeport's objection, the Department of Labor issued initial determinations finding that the wages paid to Claimants were not excluded under Labor Law §565(2)(d) and thus Claimants were entitled to receive unemployment insurance benefits. Ultimately the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board sustained the Department's determinations and Freeport appealed.

Freeport challenged the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board ruling that the two Claimants were eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits because they were not employees of Freeport within the meaning of Labor Law §565(2)(d). Freeport, on the other hand, argued that Claimants fell within the ambit of this statutory exclusion and thus were ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Board's determination, explaining that for the  purposes of determining a claimant's exclusion with respect to his or her eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits pursuant to Labor Law §565(2)(d), "Whether this exclusion applies presents a mixed question of law and fact, and the Board's determination in this regard will be upheld if it has a rational basis"

It was not disputed that Claimants were hired on a temporary basis because of the damage caused by the hurricane. The court said that "the controverted issue is whether the cited exclusion applies and, more specifically, whether the services provided by . [an] emergency."

Claimants had been hired on a temporary basis using federal grant money received as a result of the damage caused by the hurricane. However, they both, performed routine maintenance duties, including cutting grass, raking leaves, shoveling snow, driving trucks and cleaning municipal parking lots. In determining that the services performed by Claimants were related to the hurricane clean-up efforts but "not performed in case of an emergency," the Board also noted that the Claimants were hired almost a year after the hurricane and at a time when "there was no need for immediate action."

The Board, said the Appellate Division, also relied upon a Program Letter issued by the United States Department of Labor [DOL] that provided the DOL's interpretation of the exclusion from unemployment insurance coverage of governmental services performed in case of emergency. Letter No. 22-97 stated that "the urgent distress caused by the emergency . . . must directly cause the need for the services to be performed" and that, if the services performed occur "after the need for immediate action has passed, they are not necessarily performed in case of emergency.

As Claimants were employed by Freeport  nearly a year after the hurricane, the court found that there was a rational basis for the Board's decision that the exclusion did not apply and that the services performed by Claimants "were in covered employment" and thus they were eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division said that it found "no reason to disturb the decisions of the Board" regarding Claimants.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: 
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_04333.htm



Thursday, September 21, 2017

Disciplinary action follows employee's disrespectful and intimidating behavior towards superiors


Disciplinary action follows employee's disrespectful and intimidating behavior towards superiors
OATH Index No. 2307/17

A New York City job opportunity specialist [Specialist] was served with disciplinary charges pursuant to Civil Service Law §75 for allegedly having engaged in disrespectful and intimidating behavior directed towards her superiors.

The Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings Administrative Law Judge Ingrid M. Addison found that on one occasion the Specialist had "loudly confronted the director of her work location to complain about her supervisor," using inappropriate and offensive language. The Specialist also refused to leave the director’s office after she was instructed to do so.

The ALJ found that on another occasion the Specialist "snatched a document from, pointed her finger, and yelled at her supervisor."

In addition, Judge Addison found that the Specialist's employer established that the Specialist failed to follow her supervisor’s instructions on three occasions.  

Considering that the Specialist had had no prior discipline action taken against her, the ALJ said "This tribunal has generally applied the principles of progressive discipline, which aims to achieve employee behavior modification through increasing penalties for repeated or similar misconduct."

Noting that the employer sought to have the Specialist suspended without pay for 35 days, ALJ Addison said that she found such a penalty "excessive" and  recommended the Specialist be given a 20-day suspension without pay as the penalty for the Specialist's proven misconduct.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://archive.citylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/oath/17_cases/17-2307.pdf

___________________________ 

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - The text of this publication focuses on determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service in instances where the employee has been found guilty of misconduct or incompetence. Now available in two formats - as a large, paperback print edition, and as an e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/7401.html
___________________________  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Controverting a claim based on an alleged false statement or representation by the claimant in his or her application for workers' compensation benefits


Controverting a claim based on an alleged false statement or representation by the claimant in his or her application for workers' compensation benefits
2017 NY Slip Op 06490, Appellate Division, Third Department

A school district employee [Claimant] sustained work-related injuries that caused him to eventually stop working and filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits. He was subsequently classified as having a permanent total disability and was awarded benefits accordingly.*

School district and its workers' compensation carrier [Carrier] subsequently "controverted the claim" alleging that Claimant violated of Workers' Compensation Law §114-a** based upon video surveillance footage allegedly showing Claimant performing activities that Carrier contended demonstrated Claimant's ability to work. A Workers' Compensation Law Judge ultimately ruled that there was no violation of Workers' Compensation Law §114-a. which ruling was affirmed by the Workers' Compensation Board. Carrier appealed the Board's decision.

Workers' Compensation Law §114-a (1) provides that a claimant who "knowingly makes a false statement or representation as to a material fact . . . shall be disqualified from receiving any compensation directly attributable to such false statement or representation."

Citing Cirrincione v Scissors Wizard, 145 AD3d 1325, the Appellate Division said that Board "is the sole arbiter of witness credibility, and its determination as to whether a claimant violated Workers' Compensation Law §114-a will not be disturbed if supported by substantial evidence."

Carrier had submitted video surveillance footage showing Claimant's activities at sporting events involving an amateur football team that was organized by Claimant's wife and another individual. Claimant was videotaped walking around the concessions and merchandise areas, helping to move a popcorn machine on one occasion and assisting his disabled daughter take money at the secondary admission gate on another occasion.

Claimant's wife testified that the team was a nonprofit organization and that the money collected through admission, merchandise and concessions was used to cover fixed expenses such as liability insurance and the field rental. She stated that the team relied on the efforts of volunteers and that Claimant did not have specific duties, but was present at the games to support the team. Claimant also testified that he attended the games to support the team and did not work, although he acknowledged that he had assisted his disabled daughter collect money at the back gate.

The Appellate Division said considering this testimony the Board could reasonably conclude that Claimant's activities were minimal and not inconsistent with the representations that he made on the questionnaires provided to the carrier.

Holding that substantial evidence supported the Board's finding that Claimant did not violate Workers' Compensation Law §114-a, the Appellate Division declined to disturb the Board's decision.

* The Workers' Compensation Board subsequently modified this decision and ruled that Claimant sustained a permanent total industrial disability.

** § 114-a of the Workers' Compensation Law provides for the "Disqualification for false representation" as follows: "1. If for the purpose of obtaining compensation pursuant to section fifteen of this chapter, or for the purpose of influencing any determination regarding any such payment, a claimant knowingly makes a false statement or representation as to a material fact, such person shall be disqualified from receiving any compensation directly attributable to such false statement or representation. In addition, as determined by the board, the claimant shall be subject to a disqualification or an additional penalty up to the foregoing amount directly attributable to the false statement or representation. Any penalty monies shall be paid into the state treasury."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Claimant for unemployment insurance benefits penalized for making willful misrepresentations to obtain benefits



Claimant for unemployment insurance benefits penalized for making willful misrepresentations to obtain benefits
2017 NY Slip Op 06489, Appellate Division, Third Department

Claimant, a part-time employee, certified that she had not earned more than $405 before taxes as a result of such employment. The Department of Labor, however, determined that Claimant was ineligible to receive unemployment benefits for specified weeks on the basis that she was not totally unemployed and her earnings exceeded the statutory limitation of $405 a week. As a result, Claimant was found to have received an over-payment of benefits and emergency benefits, which were recoverable. As a result, Claimant's right to receive future benefits was reduced by a specified number of effective days and the Department imposed specified monetary penalties on the basis that she made willful misrepresentations to obtain benefits.

Ultimately the Board reviewed the record and determined that Claimant had made a willful misrepresentations to obtain benefits for certain period of her unemployment and sustaining the charges imposed as the result of over-payments, the reductions of her right to receive certain payments in the future and the monetary penalties imposed that were associated with those misrespresented periods of unemployment. Claimant appealed.

The Appellate Division found that substantial evidence supports the Board's determination that Claimant made willful false statements to obtain certain benefits, explaining that "[i]t is well settled that the question of whether a claimant ha[s] made . . . willful misrepresentation[s] to obtain benefits is a factual issue for the Board to resolve and will be upheld if supported by substantial evidence." Significantly, the court observed that "there is no acceptable defense to making a false statement . . . and a claim that the misrepresentation was unintentional is not sufficient."

The court noted that the record shows that Claimant had received an unemployment insurance handbook that specified that she was eligible to receive partial benefits as a part-time worker if, among other things, she earned less than $405 in a week. It rejected her contention that she relied on a formula provided by a Department of Labor representative in order to calculate her weekly wage — rather than simply dividing the amount shown on her biweekly pay stub by two. The Appellate Division characterizing Claimant's argument as "unavailing," considering that "at no point did Claimant inform the representative that she was receiving biweekly pay stubs that showed that she was, in fact, earning amounts greater than $405 per week."

Finding that "[u]nder these circumstances, substantial evidence supports the Board's determination" that Claimant made willful misrepresentations, the Appellate Division affirmed the Board's decision.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_06489.htm

Monday, September 18, 2017

Reimbursement for wages paid to workers' compensation claimant's employer for wages paid during the employee's period of disability


Reimbursement for wages paid to workers' compensation claimant's employer for wages paid during the employee's period of disability
Collins v Montgomery County Sheriff's Dept., 2017 NY Slip Op 06487, Appellate Division, Third Department

A Montgomery County deputy sheriff [Claimant] sustained a work-related injury. His claim for workers' compensation benefits was ultimately established and he was awarded disability benefits.

The Montgomery County Sheriff Department [Department] a "self-insured workers' compensation employer" paid Claimant his full weekly wages for the period November 29, 2011 through May 30, 2012 and filed a timely reimbursement request with the Workers' Compensation Board. The Department and Claimant then entered into a stipulation establishing that Claimant had sustained a 21% schedule loss of use of his right leg, payable from November 28, 2011 to February 16, 2012 at the temporary total disability rate, with the balance payable at the permanent partial disability rate and the Department was "to take credit for all prior payments."

Claimant then requested a hearing to address whether, pursuant to the terms of the parties' stipulation, the Department was entitled to reimbursement out of his schedule award for the full wages previously paid or whether a late payment penalty should be imposed against the Department for an underpayment of compensation.

A Workers' Compensation Law Judge [WCLJ] determined that the language of the stipulation permitted the Department to obtain reimbursement for the full wages paid to Claimant during compensable lost time and that there was no underpayment. The WCLJ also denied Claimant's request for imposition of a penalty. The Workers' Compensation Board affirmed the WCLJ's ruling and Claimant appeal the Board's decision.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Board's decision, noting that Workers' Compensation Law §25 (4)(a) provides that, "[i]f the employer has made advance payments of compensation, or has made payments to an employee in like manner as wages during any period of disability, [the employer] shall be entitled to be reimbursed out of an unpaid instal[l]ment or instal[l]ments of compensation due, provided [the employer's] claim for reimbursement is filed before [an] award of compensation is made."

In addition, said the court, "it is well settled that, where a claimant receives a schedule loss of use award, the employer is entitled to full reimbursement of the payments made during the period of disability."

As to Claimant's argument that the Board had "departed from prior precedent without explanation.," the Appellate Division explained that:

1. The Board was not required to explain the different holdings in the various cases cited by Claimant;

2. Here, in contrast to the Board holdings in prior cases cited by Claimant, "the parties' stipulation specifically indicated that the [Department] was 'to take credit for all prior payments' [emphasis by the Appellate Division] — without any distinction drawn between wages, awards or compensation;"

3. At the Workers' Compensation Board hearing before the WCLJ at which the stipulation was executed, Claimant indicated that he was aware that the Department was entitled to take credit for any prior indemnity payments that he had received; and

4. The WCLJ order directed the Department to "take credit for prior payments."

Although, said the Appellate Division, "[a] statutory or regulatory right may generally be waived by a stipulation or by conduct evincing an intent to forgo that right," in this instance the Board's reading of the parties' stipulation that the Department did not intend to waive its right to reimbursement is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the court declined to "disturbed" the Board's determination and affirmed its decision.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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