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October 24, 2017

Termination of employment following extened absence without approval


Termination of employment following extended absence without approval  

An agency employee [Anonymous*] who had worked in the New York City Borough of Manhattan was charged with being Absent Without Leave [AWOL] when she did not report to an assigned new workplace in another borough of New York City for over 13 months and failed to respond to notices regarding this absence.

Anonymous claimed that she was afraid to report to the new workplace because she had personally handled disciplinary action involving employees at that location. A psychologist who testified on Anonymous’ behalf opined that Anonymous suffered from depression and anxiety related to her reassignment to the new location.

The employer’s psychiatrist, on the other hand, testified that Anonymous  did not exhibit signs of severe anxiety or depression.

Office of Administrative Trials and Hearing Administrative Law Judge Astrid B. Gloade found this conflicting medical evaluations were of limited value as they were completed after the AWOL period.

Further, ALJ Gloade was not persuaded that Anonymous’ mental health prevented her from responding to department notices or reporting to work for over 13 months. Nor did the ALJ credit Anonymous’ contention that the relocation threatened her safety, as Anonymous' supervisors confirmed that security measures, including security guards, department police officers and "panic buttons" were in place.

Judge Gloade recommended that Anonymous be terminated from her position as a result of Anonymous' long, unexplained absence from her assigned duty station.

An appointing authority's may attempt to remove a tenured employee from his or her position for "absence" it deemed to be an abandonment of the position. In Ciccarelli v West Seneca Central School District, 107 AD2d 105, a teacher successfully challenged a Board of Education’s resolution [1]  holding that the educator had abandoned her position and [2] terminating her from her tenured employment. 

The Appellate Division held that the burden of proving that an educator had abandoned his or her tenured teaching position was upon the District. This, said the court, must be established "by clear and convincing evidence" that a teacher, by a "voluntary and deliberate act," intended to relinquish [the] teaching position and forfeit [his or her] tenure rights. Otherwise, ruled the Appellate Division, a tenured teacher may be terminated only in accordance with the provisions set out §3020-a of the Education Law.

In a similar situation involving an employee in the classified service [educators are in the unclassified service] a former rule of the New York State Civil Service Commission [4 NYCRR 5.3(d)] providing that a State employee absent for a period of ten or more days without an explanation would be deemed to have resigned from his or her position was held to violate the employee's right to administrative due process [Bernstein v Industrial Commissioner, 59 AD2d 678]. This type of provision, however, has survived in a number of  collective bargaining agreement [see New York State Off. of Mental Health v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 53 A.D.3d 887].

* Pursuant to OATH Rule of Practice section 1-49(d), respondent had requested that "Anonymous" be used in reporting this decision.

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