A few weeks ago, I got a call from my cousin who said he needed my help regarding an employment matter. He told me that his employment with the company he worked with was suddenly terminated for reasons that were quite dubious and the worst part of it was that he was only paid a month’s salary in lieu of the period of notice, which meant that his termination was to commence immediately. Also, none of his entitlements were paid to him after putting in about 6 years of service to the company. I recently got another complaint from a lady, who had taken a one-year study leave from her company after working with them for 6 years. Upon her return, not only did they tell her that she could not be reabsorbed into the company, but they also said she did not have any entitlements! She and her husband are very angry at the greed and meanness of the company; so they are telling her in other words that her 7 years of working in the company was to be thrown in the dustbin. What was even more bizarre is the fact that it is clearly stated in the company handbook that any employee who is not reabsorbed in the company upon returning from study leave, would be paid his/her entitlements.
As a lawyer I know that the employers in both cases were trying to be greedy and attempting to eat their cake and have it: they wanted to downsize their company by letting some employees go based on flimsy reasons, and not pay them the money they were entitled to upon termination. A typical average Nigerian, who does not know his/her rights, who would rather complain and do nothing, would go home and lick his/her wounds, and not contemplate going to see a lawyer for help to contest such a termination and refusal to pay entitlements. Reasons for this is probably because they believe that an individual cannot fight a big corporation and hope to win. First of all they have to think of the legal fees that would be charged by a lawyer to accept their brief; secondly, a big corporation would probably hire the best lawyers money can pay for, who could bring in all sorts of technicalities into the matter, which could potentially make the case unnecessarily lengthy, which leads to the third reason; the lengthy judicial process of litigation in court before a resolution of the matter, which at the end of the day could defeat the purpose of the case. Employers who have refused to pay a terminated employee’s entitlements, take a gamble based on these above-mentioned reasons and hope that the employee goes away without contesting an unjust termination. Unfortunately, most of the time their gamble pays off, leaving the company smiling and celebrating all the way to the bank.
However, what most people do not know is that a lot of times, such a matter does not have to get to the court before it gets resolved. A letter of demand with an ultimatum to pay, written by a lawyer is oftentimes all that may be needed to get the company to pay the entitlements owed. This was actually what I did for my cousin, whose entitlements were immediately paid after a letter of demand was written to the company. One thing most people do not know is that a lot of these greedy companies usually do not want to have a bad reputation or image in the public eye, which such a lawsuit could potentially bring. Secondly, a company would spend lots of money to hire a top-notch lawyer to defend it in court against lawsuits for unjust terminations and refusal to pay entitlements. Sometimes the legal charges to a company by a top-notch lawyer for just an appearance in court, could exceed the sum of entitlements that were not paid, which is the subject matter of the litigation in the first place, lastly, a case such as this has a fifty/fifty percent chance of being resolved in favour of either of the parties. The percentage is higher in favour of the employee where the termination was not for disciplinary reasons (a termination for disciplinary reasons (known as dismissal), usually does not require payment of entitlements to the employee). So most companies would prefer to cut their losses and pay the employee once they have seen that he/she is not afraid to go and seek help from a lawyer to help to defend his/her matter.
What am I trying to say? There are so many people out there who are scared of going to court or worried about seeking legal advise for issues bordering on the violation of their right to work. Even though employment in Nigeria is mainly governed by contracts of employment, the Labour Laws of Nigeria still give protection to workers to prevent exploitation by employers. It is very important to seek legal advise when you feel you have been unjustly terminated by an employer, especially when you are being denied what you are entitled to after such termination. This is because even though you have been sent out to the job market again, the money you are paid as your entitlements would go a long way to save you from unnecessary, avoidable financial hardship while looking for employment in another organisation and the emotional or psychological trauma of knowing you have been cheated but can do nothing about it.
Dear readers, I would like to know your thoughts on this post: have you had experiences of unjust termination or do you know anyone who has been unjustly terminated and not paid their entitlements? What actions were taken and how successful were you in your pursuit for justice?
Have a wonderful weekend!