July 24, 2024

Unlawful Termination: Court awards N27m to bank employee

The National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Asaba Division, Delta State, has ordered the United Bank for Africa Plc, to pay its ex-worker, Richard Okagbare, the sum of N27,011, 356.56m, as general damages for unlawful termination of his employment.

Justice Dr J. I. Targema who gave the order described Okagbare’s sack as unconstitutional and malicious.

The judge further ordered the bank to pay the money within 30 days of the judgment. The judgment was delivered on January 18, 2023.

Okagbare, through his lawyer, N. W. Ogbogu, dragged the bank before the court in a suit marked NICN/ASB/47/2020, wherein he sought for the following reliefs: “A declaration that the termination of his employment by the bank, via a letter dated April 20, 2016, is a breach of bank’s Group Staff Handbook and Compensation Policy for loss of earnings.’’

He said that it was unconstitutional and did not comply with international best practices as enjoined by the International Labour Organisation’s Termination of Employment Convention of 182 No. 158 and Recommendation 166 (R 166 Termination of Employment Recommendation 1982 No. 166) of the ILO’s International Standard Practice (especially but not limited to Article 4, 5, 6 and 7) and therefore unlawful.

“An order for payment of a total sum of N133, 006, 862. 64 million, being his unpaid salary for the month of April 2016; loss of earnings from May 2016 to March 2025, when he would have retired at 60 years pursuant to the defendant’s group Handbook); leave encashment for nine years; and leave allowance for nine years.”

Alternatively, the claimant asked the court for an order for payment of N92, 104, 447, 27 million, being his unpaid salary for the month of April 2016, under the Compensation Policy of the Defendant Bank, and the cost of instituting the suit.

An order for payment of 10 per cent interest on the judgment sum from the date of judgment until it is liquidated.

The claimant during the trial told the court that he was a worker with the bank sometime in 2016 when his employment was terminated in questionable and unfair circumstances. He added that he was paid the paltry sum of N441, 107.66 without any payment in lieu of notice and terminal benefits in accordance with the defendant’s Group Staff Handbook and Compensation Policy for loss of earnings.

He told the court that his plea was for the bank to withdraw the letter of termination and allow him to resign was refused, stating that according to the customs of the banking industry, when a bank worker’s appointment is terminated or is dismissed from employment, the possibility of finding employment in the industry is frustrating.

But UBA Plc, through one of its staff, Mr James Ebako, who testified as defendant witness, while being led by Mr. G. C. Igbokwe (SAN), told the court that the claimant was an employee of UBA until 2014/2016, when his appointment was terminated by the bank.

He stated that before the termination, the claimant held various positions in the course of his employment with the bank and also had disciplinary records while in the bank’s employment.

Ebako further told the court that the various positions held by the claimant had specific and peculiar tasks while the failure to meet up the task led to disciplinary measures against the claimant after each of the tasks was measured and monitored by the bank’s performance appraisal system.

The witness stated that the performance appraisal system is holistic and gives a clear indication of the performance of each worker, adding that the outcome of the appraisal is communicated to the members of staff at the end of each appraisal circle adopted.

He also said that the claimant performed poorly for five consecutive appraisal circles after which he was advised to resign in April 2016, for his consistently poor performance in line with the defendant’s Human Resource Disciplinary Process and Sanction Policy.

Ebako further stated that the claimant failed and/or refused to tender his resignation as advised by the bank within the advised period and was thereafter issued a letter of termination in line with the defendant disciplinary process and sanctions policy.

Justice Targema, after listening to parties’ arguments, and perused the processes and exhibits tendered before the court as well as cited several authorities, held that; “In all, the claimant’s case succeeds only on the terms already indicated.

“Accordingly and for the avoidance of doubt, I make the following declaration and order: “It is declared that the termination of the claimant’s employment with the UBA by the Defendant Bank via a letter dated 20 April 2016, is a breach of the Defendant’s Group Staff Handbook, Terms and Conditions of claimant’s appointment. It is unconstitutional, malicious and unlawful.

“It is hereby ordered that the defendant Bank (UBA Plc) shall within 30 days of this judgment pay to the claimant the sum of twenty seven million, eleven thousand three hundred and fifty six naira fifty six kobo (N27,011,356.56) only being general damages for unlawful dismissal as well as damages for refusing to issue work reference to the claimant. Judgment is entered accordingly. I make no order as to cost.”

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