LAW REPORT FOR NON-LAWYERS ON WHETHER AN EMPLOYER IS OBLIGED TO PROVE THE REASON GIVEN FOR FIRING HIS EMPLOYEE
CASE OF THE WEEK: INSTITUTE OF HEALTH AHMADU BELLO UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL MANAGEMENT BOARD V MRS. JUMMAI R. I ANYIP (2011)12 NWLR 1
- The proper forum for trial on allegation of crime at a work place.
- Whether an employer is obliged to prove the reason given for firing his employee.
- The measure of damages/compensation for wrongful determination of employment.
- When a court can order the reinstatement of an employee.
FACTS OF THE CASE
Mrs. Jummai Anyip was an employee of the Institute of Health Ahmadu Bello University Hospital Management Board and by the applicable conditions of service, i.e the institute of health staff regulatuions it was provided as follows:
“The institute may at any time for good cause terminate your engagement by two months’ notice in writing or by payment in lieu of notice”
Following an allegation of theft of expired drugs against Mrs. Jummai, the institute set up an Administrative Disciplinary Committee to investigate the allegations and suspended her without pay pending the outcome of the investigation. A letter was written to Mrs Jummai and it was clearly stated that her fate would be determined by the outcome of the report of the Administrative Disciplinary Committee.
After investigations and hearing, the committee exonerated Mrs. Jummai and recommended her reinstatement. Notwithstanding the recommendation, the institute dismissed Mrs. Jummai from her employment.
Aggrieved, Mrs. Jummai, instituted an action against the institute at the high court of kaduna state claiming the following:
- An order declaring her dismissal by the institute null and void
- An order of the court declaring that her appointment was valid and subsisting
- Payment of all arrears of salaries, allowances and other benefits which she is entitled to from the 11th of June 1995 being the date of her suspension, until judgment is delivered.
- And, in the alternative to a, b and c above, the sum of N 350,000 and damages for wrongful dismissal.After hearing the evidence of the parties, the high court gave judgment in favour of the Institute. Not satisfied, Mrs. Jummai appealed to the court of appeal; the Court of Appeal over ruled the judgment of the High Court awarded her damages for wrongful dismissal but didn’t give an order for reinstatement.
Being dissatisfied, the institute appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed their appeal and upheld that of the court of appeal. The Supreme Court in analyzing the issue stated as follows:
- The proper forum for trial on allegation of crime at a work place
Our legal system puts on the court the burden of trial of persons accused of criminal offence and the duty of pronouncing his guilt. To do otherwise will constitute an unwarranted attack on our system of criminal justice. In this instant case, the disciplinary committee heard both parties involved i.e Mrs. Jummai and the Institute before concluding that Mrs. Jummai was not guilty. The only authority that can decide that, when an issue of criminality is involved is a court of competent jurisdiction.
- Whether an employer is obliged to prove the reason given for firing his employee
An employer can terminate for good reason or no reason at all. Where an employer has given reason to fire his employee, he is obliged to satisfactorily prove the same otherwise the termination/dismissal may constitute a wrongful dismissal. In the instant case, the institute failed to justify the dismissal of the respondent; hence it was wrongful.
- The measure of damages/compensation for wrongful determination of employment
In an action for wrongful dismissal, the normal measure of compensation is the amount the employee could have earned under the contract for the period until the employer could lawfully have terminated it and not the amount the employee could reasonably be expected to earn in other suitable employment because the dismissed employee like any innocent person following a breach of contract by the other party must take reasonable steps to minimize the loss.
- When a court can order the reinstatement of an employee
The court has no power to impose a willing servant on an unwilling master unless the appointment has statutory flavour. An employment is said to have statutory flavour where the appointment and termination of such employment is governed or regulated by the provisions of statute or where the conditions of service are contained in regulations derived from statutory provisions.
- A statute is a written law passed by the National Assembly or House of Assembly.
Reported by: Ugonma Dozie Pro-Bono Partner 08138570737