I just signed a 1-year contract with my company (which was why I turned down another offer I got around the same time) & after 2 weeks my employment was wrongfully terminated. A colleague told me in this case I am entitled to certain compensations due to the sudden wage loss, emotional distress, etc.
Is this applicable in Nigeria & what are the practical steps I can take in this situation?
Let me start by sympathizing with you on your current situation. While you did not provide details on why you feel your employment was wrongfully terminated, I will be advising you based on guidance from the Nigerian labour law and its application to similar cases.
To begin with, employees and employers are bound by the terms and conditions of the employment contract which they have willingly executed. Whether written or inferred, the terms of employment should stipulate the procedure, notice and termination package in which the employer would pay to the employee upon termination of the employee’s employment. Labour Act, Cap L1 LFN (2004). It, therefore, means that termination of the employment contract is said to be unlawful or wrongful if the employer fails to terminate the employee’s employment in line with the provisions of the contract of employment. In simple terms, a termination of appointment is illegal if your employer failed to comply with the notice period stated in your contract or pay you the appropriate compensation as stated in your contract.
While the circumstances surrounding the termination of your employment may be ‘unfair’ (i.e., it is for reasons unrelated to your conduct and ability to deliver on your job), it can only be addressed through legal means if the actions or inactions of your employer contradicts your signed contract of employment. This is because the court will only admit into evidence documents relating to the employment and statutes of employment only, as the court is not allowed to rewrite or edit the already signed employment contract. It is important to note that by law, your employer is not obliged to state reasons for the exit except in the case of dismissal.
Irrespective of the employment type, the Nigerian Labour laws address issues surrounding the termination of employment and its attendant compensation based on the type and terms of the contract of employment. The framers of the Labour laws leave the adjudication of employment disputes to the discretion of the courts in situations where termination of the contract is due to reasons such as contradiction of statutory flavours (in the case of civil servants and unionized employees) and other reasons beyond the control of the employer, such as bankruptcy, natural disasters, government policy summersaults, liquidation, sickness etc. If your termination was not in line with your terms of the contract or contrary to the statutes of employment and all avenues of amicable resolution has been sought but failed you are encouraged to engage the services of a lawyer to review the details of your contract and issues surrounding the termination, then proceed to the National Industrial Court for legal action.
However, if all the terms of your employment contract and statutes were adhered to but you feel it was unfair and you would like to seek compensation based on psychological and emotional distress caused by the wage loss, it is important to bear a couple of things in mind. Unlike in Commonwealth jurisdictions such as United Kingdom where the Employment Rights Act (ERA) is fully operational and protects employees from unfair termination by reviewing the circumstances surrounding such, a Nigerian court would most likely not grant damages for psychological, emotional pain and distress claims of an employee for unlawful termination of their contract of employment by the employer. An example of such is the cases of Baker v. The Denkera Ashanti Mining Corporation Ltd 20 T.L.R 37 and Addis v. Gramophone Co. Ltd (1909) A.C 488. It is notable that except where the employer states the reason for the termination, the duty of proving the illegality or otherwise of the termination rests on the employee who is making the allegation. This will most likely be a herculean task for you at the end of the day.
In very rare cases, the most the National Industrial Court (NIC) will grant is that the employer pays you the cost you incurred during the litigation. However, this process could be time and resources consuming and may impact your personal brand as an employee, a price I believe is too huge. While I agree it is time for the Nigerian Labour law to be reviewed, particularly to accommodate full operationalization of the ERA which is in tandem with the ILO Termination of Employment Convention 158 of 1982 and to ensure job security for employees, I think it is high time you looked ahead for the great opportunities the labour market can offer. As stated in your question, a few months ago you were able to secure this contract as well as the employment offer you turned down to pursue this. Based on the aforementioned, it is visible that you have the competencies required to get another job. While starting over in the “job hunting department” is painful particularly with the circumstances surrounding yours, it is time to leave it in the past and follow the required steps to proceed in your career.
- Update your resume to highlight your competencies and experiences,
- Network with other professionals and recruiters,
- Leverage social media such as LinkedIn for professional visibility,
- Prepare adequately for job interviews,
- Remember to talk about your past employer in a professional manner,
- Thoroughly read and understand any employment contract before signing and
- Stay relevant by continuously developing yourself.
The final decision on the steps to take remains yours. However, do not forget to always keep your eyes on your goal. I will always be rooting for you.
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Adewumi is an experienced Human Resource Professional with over 8 years of experience across the Research, Real Estate, Oil & Gas and FMCG industries. She has a proven track record of designing and implementing HR practices that synchronizes strategy and talent to drive superior performance. She has a passion for continuous improvement, imparting knowledge and adding value to society. Adewumi holds a bachelors degree and a masters degree from Obafemi Awolowo University. She is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPMN) and a Certified Senior HR professional by the HR Certification Institute She is married and blessed with two boys.