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CAN AN EMPLOYEE’S APPOINTMENT BE TERMINATED WHILE STILL ON PROBATION?
UNIVERSITY OF JOS
(1990) LPELR-1461 (SC)
By a letter of appointment dated 22nd April, 1981, Simeon Ihezukwu was employed as higher executive officer (accounts) by the University of Jos, Makurdi Campus when it was Federal University of Technology, Makurdi. The appointment was for a probationary period of two years and if not confirmed at the end of the period, it would be terminated by three months’ notice or payment in lieu thereof. In a letter dated 4th June, 1982 Simeon Ihezukwu was suspended from office. This was followed by another letter dated 2nd August, 1982 formally terminating his appointment.
Simeon Ihezukwu thereupon brought an action at the High Court, Makurdi claiming wrongful termination of employment and claimed damages
At the end of proceedings, the trial court granted Simeon Ihezukwu’s claims in part.
Dissatisfied with the judgment at the trial court, Simeon Ihezukwu appealed to the Court of Appeal, where the Appeal succeeded in part.
Still not satisfied at the decision delivered at the Court of Appeal, Simeon Ihezukwu appealed to the Supreme Court, and one of his arguments was that since the contract was for two years and could not be terminated during the probationary period.
Whether an employer can validly terminate an employee’s employment during the probationary period
The Supreme Court held that the essence of a probationary appointment is that the employer retains the right not to confirm the appointment until after a specified period. Where the contract of employment provides that the appointment is subject to a probationary period of a certain length of time, it does not give the employee a legal right to be employed for that length of time and the employer may lawfully dismiss him before the expiry of that period.
The Court further held that the contention by Ihezukwu’s Counsel that an employee cannot be terminated until the appointment was confirmed has no basis in law or fact. It is a wrong interpretation of the relevant clause of the agreement of employment. An unconfirmed employee does not enjoy the permanence of employment which a confirmed employee enjoys.
The sole purpose of putting an employee on probation is to assure the employer that the employee is a fit and proper person to be placed on a permanent appointment. A probationary period is a period of observation by the employer. It, therefore, follows that once the condition laid down for the termination of appointment during the probationary period is satisfied or complied with an employee cannot justifiably complain.
It appears to me a startling proposition of law that during a probationary period an employer has no right to terminate the appointment of the employee notwithstanding the breach of the terms of his appointment or has done anything contrary to the interest of his employer.