My wife works at a local university as an accountant. Or perhaps I should say "worked" ... she suffered a brain injury in late December. She has recovered physically for the most part, but still has significant issues with short-term memory. So knowledge work is not a very realistic option at this point, and consequently, she is still on medical leave.

We just (yesterday) received a letter from the university. They want to convene a "due process" hearing to determine whether she can return to work and what accommodations might be necessary.

It's not (IMO) unreasonable for them to ask whether and/or when she intends on returning to work. And we live in a state (Ohio) where employment is "at will" (either the employee or employer may sever the relationship at any time).

At the same time, recovery from this type of injury is typically 1-2 years. (That doesn't necessarily mean everyone makes a full recovery. It means that, however much a person recovers, 90%-95% of that is going to happen withing 12-24 months.) So December 2017 / January 2018 would be a more appropriate time to have a discussion about her long-term capabilities.

And I am somewhat concerned that the hearing is next week, and they want a list of people who will testify on her behalf by the end of this week (three days from now). It was probably unlikely that I could get any of her doctors or therapists to this meeting; but with so little notice, I have zero chance of getting any of her medical providers to the meeting.

I'm not looking for specific legal advice so much as I'm wondering if this type of hearing is a standard procedure ... and if so, I'd like to have a rough idea of what to expect.

Update / Clarification:
My wife's employer is a state school (not private). I don't know for certain whether her position would be classified as civil service or not; but I would guess that it is (civil service), since she is required to contribute to the state employees' retirement fund.

I do not believe her position is covered by a collective bargaining agreement -- as I understand it, most positions at this university are not (although some functions, e.g. maintenance or campus police, may be an exception).

Update 2:
The university agreed to postpone the hearing. And I did contact an employment attorney. His opinion was that this was probably just a routine formality -- policy does say that medical leave should be reviewed at or about six months -- they would probably just extend her leave, and it would be a waste of time for him to attend the meeting with us.

He was partially correct. The meeting certainly was a formality, and it probably would have been a waste of time for him to attend. But as to the outcome ... they had obviously already made the decision to terminate her employment.

  • 3
    I would contact a worker's compensation attorney ASAP. Your "at will" assumption is probably inapplicable in this context (otherwise there wouldn't be a "due process" hearing). And, you probably lack the skill set to manage this hearing properly, and the stakes involved in screwing it up could be high. An attorney can probably get the hearing postponed if necessary. The variation in what is involved in such a hearing varies too much locally even within Ohio, for advice here to be useful. – ohwilleke Aug 1 '17 at 14:18
  • WRT the question, you need to indicate if this is a private vs. state university, because the latter have stricter rules than the former. If the latter, there is also a difference between generic employees and civil service employees (who have strongly protected property rights to employment). – user6726 Aug 1 '17 at 14:52
  • Is there a collective bargaining agreement? – user662852 Aug 1 '17 at 16:26
  • @ohwilleke The injury did not happen at work. So I'm not sure I understand why/how a worker's comp attorney would help. Are you saying a "worker's comp attorney" can be expected to have general expertise in employer - employee relations law? – David Aug 1 '17 at 21:52
  • @David Sorry for the misunderstanding. Perhaps someone who specialized in disability claims or personal injury generally or employment law. – ohwilleke Aug 1 '17 at 22:37

There are procedural rules in place in the state universities pertaining to any negative action, but the exact rules depend on the nature of the position. Faculty for example have one set of rules, students another, and staff yet others. A hearing is thus required to do anything significant (such as fire an employee), so it is very common. The function of a "due process" hearing is to make certain that the rules are followed before visiting a negative outcome on an employee. This is not a matter that you should try to deal with on your own: you need an attorney.

There are two distinct issues involved in such a procedure. One is whether the hierarchy of fact-finders follows the process. Usually there is a technical screw-up (I was part of the process in Ohio), but typically not anything that would lead to overturning a final decision. The other is whether there are specific disability or work-related injury protections.

The timing of such a hearing and matters of notice would figure prominently in the first response from an attorney. Three days notice is not inconceivable, but it is arguably unreasonable, which is one of the first things that an attorney would tell them. It is probable that the internal rules require that notices be delivered to the employee who must forward them to their attorney, which adds delay.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.