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Court awards N500,000 damages against firm for wrongful employment termination

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Hon. Justice Ikechi Nweneka of the Lagos Judicial division of the National Industrial Court has declared the Medplus Ltd purported termination of the Ndidiamaka Peterside employment dated 5th July 2019 without reason connected to poor performance or gross misconduct as wrongful and contrary to international best practices and labour standards, awarded the sum of N500,000 as damages.

The Court held that it was antithetical for the company personnel policy to summarily terminate the employment of the Ndidiamaka without cause that the common law rule which allows an employer to terminate the employment of its staff without reason is no longer in accord with international best practices in labour relations.

From facts, the claimant- Ndidiamaka Peterside had submitted that her termination letter is invalid because no reason ascribed for such termination despite her excellent performance and unblemished record; that the firm failed to pay her terminal benefit contemporaneously with the service of the termination letter urged the court to set aside the purported termination and grant other reliefs sought.

In defence, the firm argued that the Claimant has not discharged the burden of proof noted that an employee who has collected her entitlements cannot be heard to complain of wrongful termination of employment, stated that the motive for the termination is irrelevant having complied with the terms of the contract of employment.

Claimant counsel urged the Court to hold that the Claimant’s case qualifies as an exceptional case which should require the firm to provide a reason for terminating the Claimant’s employment, argued that the Claimant’s evidence shows that the Defendant did not exercise its right to hire and fire in isolation, but did so after hiring her replacement.

The Court was urged to hold that the Claimant was unfairly terminated and it would be inconsistent with international best practice for the Defendant to terminate the Claimant’s employment without a reason.

In his reply, the defendant submitted that international best practices will not supersede the contract of employment willingly entered into by the parties which, in this case, permits the Defendant to terminate the employment of the Claimant without reason.

Delivering the Judgment, the presiding Judge, Justice Ikechi Nweneka held that failure to pay the salary in lieu of notice contemporaneously with the termination of employment constitutes a breach of the contract.

“Fairness and justice should not be sacrificed on the altar of economic benefits. A worker who has completed a stipulated probationary period should only be disengaged for cause and in accordance with laid down procedure. Capricious termination, as was done in this case, runs against international best practices in labour.

“While the jurisdiction of this Court over cases of unfair labour practice or international best practice in labour is not in doubt, what is international best practice in labour is a question of fact to be proved by evidence in accordance with Sections 16 to 19 of the Evidence Act, 2011.

“In doing this, therefore, the Claimant must condescend on particulars and plead and prove what obtains in other jurisdictions outside Nigeria in similar circumstances; and produce decisions from Courts in those jurisdictions on the subject matter in its final address. This was not done in this case.

On the whole, the Court declared the termination as wrongful and ordered the firm to pay the Ndidiamaka’s damages in the sum of Five Hundred Thousand Naira for wrongful termination of employment and unlawfully withholding her security deposit with N150, 000 cost of action.

 

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