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In re Johnson

November 28, 2008

IN THE MATTER OF KAREN L. JOHNSON


On appeal from a Final Administrative Decision of the Merit System Board, DOP Docket No. 2006-2380.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted November 6, 2008

Before Judges Payne and Newman.

Appellant, the Atlantic County Department of Family and Community Development, (the County) appeals from the final decision of the Merit System Board, (the Board) which adopted the recommendation of the Administrative Law Judge reversing the termination of Karen Johnson (Ms. Johnson) for being absent from work without proper authorization in violation of N.J.A.C. 4A:2-6.2(b). We affirm.

The relevant facts may be summarized as follows. Ms. Johnson was employed by the County as a child support worker beginning in 2001. On May 11, 2005, Ms. Johnson submitted the first of four notes from her physician to her supervisor, Katrina Wilson, indicating that she should be excused from work due to stress. The last of the notes indicated that Ms. Johnson would be able to return to work without restrictions on July 21, 2005. During the time period between May 11, 2005, and July 18, 2005, the County authorized Ms. Johnson to be on family medical leave. Ms. Johnson exhausted her paid sick time on July 18, 2005, and thereafter was placed on approved leave without pay.

On August 3, 2005, Ms. Johnson wrote to the County requesting family medical leave due to stress syndrome, indicating that the stress was work related. Ms. Johnson had also previously applied for state disability benefits. An administrative official of the County later advised her that she should instead have submitted a workers' compensation claim. Pursuant to those instructions, Ms. Johnson completed a workers' compensation claim on August 19, 2005. Ms. Johnson's supervisor, Ms. Wilson, informed Ms. Johnson that she no longer had to provide a doctor's note regarding her medical condition after she applied for disability. Ms. Wilson did not testify at the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge.

On September 16, 2005, Ms. Johnson's workers' compensation claim was denied. On September 27, 2005, the County wrote Ms. Johnson a letter directing her to report to work on October 3, 2005, to meet with her supervisor, or she would be recorded as resigned not in good standing. On September 28, 2005, Ms. Johnson was found eligible for disability benefits effective June 20, 2005.

On October 3, 2005, Ms. Johnson reported to the County's office in Pleasantville, where her supervisor was assigned. Co-workers informed Ms. Johnson that her supervisor was in the Hammonton office that day. Ms. Johnson attempted to telephone her supervisor at the Hammonton office without success. A co-worker in the office was able to reach the supervisor by phone, and told her that Ms. Johnson was waiting for her. The supervisor did not call back. Ms. Johnson then left the office for a previously scheduled doctor's appointment. Sometime thereafter, Ms. Johnson contacted her union representatives for assistance.

On appeal, the County raises the following arguments for our consideration:

POINT I:

THE EMPLOYER/APPELLANT HAS A RIGHT TO EXPECT AN EMPLOYEE TO ABIDE THE REASONABLE RULES AND REGULATIONS OF THE WORKPLACE AND AN EMPLOYEE WHO FAILS TO FOLLOW THOSE RULES IS PROPERLY SUBJECT TO SANCTION.

POINT II:

THE EMPLOYEE'S APPLICATION FOR STATE BENEFITS UNDER N.J.S.A. 43:21-25, ET SEQ. IS NOT ...


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