Determining seniority for the purposes of layoff

Determining seniority for the purposes of layoff
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision 16,411

As a result of “budgetary constraints," the school board voted to abolish four positions in the elementary tenure area. 

One of the teachers laid off challenged the board determination, contending district improperly excluded two sixth grade teachers from the elementary tenure area seniority list and that those teachers were the least senior in that tenure area. Claiming she had greater seniority in the elementary tenure area, the teacher appealed the school board action to the commissioner of education.*

One the factors that provided critical to the teacher's claim of having greater seniority than the two sixth grade teachers cited by her was that she had been granted an unpaid 23-day leave for maternity during her probationary period.

The Commissioner, noting that Education Law §3013(2) provides that when a board of education abolishes a position, “the services of the teacher having the least seniority in the system within the tenure of the position abolished shall be discontinued” and that Section 30-1.1(f) of the Rules of the Board of Regents defines seniority as follows: “Seniority means length of service in a designated tenure area ...,”  said that the principal issue in this appeal is whether teacher was one of the four least senior teachers in the elementary tenure area. 

With respect to the two teachers the board had “excluded” from the elementary tenure area, the Commissioner found that both were serving in the elementary tenure area and thus both should have been included on the seniority list for that tenure area. 

This ruling, however, did not change the result insofar as the teacher’s appeal was concerned.

The Commissioner pointed out that the record demonstrated that the teacher was still the least senior teacher in the elementary tenure area as a result of her 23 days of unpaid leave taken during her probationary period, noting that “It is well settled that days spent on unpaid leave of absence may not be included in determining seniority.”**

With respect to such absence, one of the arguments advanced by the teacher in support of her appeal was that because she had taken the unpaid leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act [FMLA], her absence must still be included in calculating her seniority.

The Commissioner disagreed, noting that the FMLA specifically provides that an employee “may, but is not entitled to, accrue any additional benefits or seniority during unpaid FMLA leave.”*** The Commissioner quoted from the U.S. Department of Labor's FMLA guidelines wherein it states “The FMLA does not entitle an employee to the accrual of any seniority (or employment benefits) during any period of FMLA leave [.]” 

Finding that the teacher “served 23 days less” than one of the sixth grade teachers and “at least three days less” than the other sixth grade teacher, the Commissioner concluded that the teacher “was the least senior teacher in the elementary tenure area and [thus] was properly excessed.”

* The Commissioner’s decision notes that the superintendent notified the teacher of “an opening in an elementary teaching position” but the teacher had declined reappointment to the position offered.

** With respect to employees of the State as the employer in the Classified Service, 4 NYCRR 4.5(g) grants the appointing authority discretion to excuse certain absences during the individual’s probationary period. However, the minimum and maximum periods of the probationary term of the employee are to be extended by the number of workdays of his or her absence[s] that are not so excused. Many local civil service commissions have adopted a similar rule.

*** See 29 C.F.R. §825.215(d)(2).

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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