[Whistle-Blowing] Industrial Court awards N5m damages against company for workplace victimization

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Hon. Justice Nelson Ogbuanya of the National Industrial Court, Portharcourt Judicial Division has declared the termination of Mrs. Sharon Philip’s employment from Notore Industries Ltd as wrongful and reckless; awarded the sum of N5,000,000.00 (Five Million Naira) against the company as general damages for being exposed to workplace victimization, and failure to protect her against retaliation in line with the Company Whistle-blowing policy and the sum of N500,000.00(five hundred thousand naira) cost of action.

 

 

Justice Ogbuanya further declared that querying Mrs. Sharon and subjecting her to disciplinary hearing on false allegation of misconduct, yet her employment was terminated, without paying her terminal benefits and salary in lieu of notice, amounts to unfair labour practice.

The Court ordered Notore Industries Ltd to pay Mrs. Sharon the sum of N1, 804,472.72 as Terminal Benefits and Salary in lieu of Notice, as set out in the employment agreement, and to supply her with necessary documents for the collection of her pension payment from the Pension Administrator.


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However, Mrs. Sharon’s claim bordering on defamation was dismissed for lack of proof.

From facts, the claimant- Mrs. Sharon Philip had submitted that following a Whistle-blowing Policy introduced by the company, she testified before an Ethics Committee set up to investigate unethical business practices which led to the suspension of some of the senior staff over misconduct.

She alleged that upon the return of the senior staff from suspension, she was victimized and oppressed, including orchestrating the issuance of a Query and unjustly subjecting her to disciplinary hearing under the false allegation of misconduct.

It is the Claimant’s further testimony that these acts of victimization against her, were later followed with a Termination letter on the ground that her services will no longer be required, that she was neither reinstated nor paid salary in lieu of notice, and her terminal benefits and pension contributions.

In defense, the defendant- Notore Industries Ltd maintained that Mrs. Sharon’s employment was not terminated pursuant to the query issued against her for the loss suffered by the company, and neither was the termination of her employment orchestrated by any person out of malice. That her appointment was terminated when her services were no longer required as expressed in her termination letter due to redundancy.

The company further contended that Mrs. Sharon’s terminal benefits has been computed and was asked to do an exit clearance to collect her said terminal benefits but refused to do so, and her Pension contributions were duly remitted to the pension Administrator.

The learned Counsel to the company submitted that he did not know the outcome of the investigation by which the Claimant anchored her allegation that two staff was suspended and that the identities of persons who testified were closely guarded.

In opposition, the Claimant’s Counsel, Prof. Andrew I. Chukwuemerie SAN contended that the company did not comply with the provisions of law regarding redundancy, and urged the court to grant the reliefs sought.

Delivering the judgment after careful evaluation of the submission of both parties, the Presiding Judge, Justice Nelson Ogbuanya held that Redundancy exercise as a corporate right-sizing scheme resulting in industry-wide down-sizing of workforce is regulated by law, and no evidence of the company embarking on such scheme, that Mrs. Sharon exit pathway was Termination, not Dismissal or Redundancy.

Justice Ogbuanya affirmed that Mrs. Sharon has led sufficient evidence to show that she was exposed to workplace victimization and that the victimization is retaliation by her superior in office, over the ethical hearing on Company’s Whistle-blowing policy.

The Court held that no reason was given regarding the Claimant’s performance that could warrant her being restructured out of her office without any reporting line of duty, and no Memo directing such exercise was also tendered by the Defendant to show that it was an office-wide restructuring exercise.

“The Defendant surely owed the Claimant a duty of care to protect her against the risk of retaliation, which eventually happened unrestrained, culminating in the Claimant’s loss of her job without substantiated reason. It must be noted that the emerging whistle-blowing policy as a mechanism for anti-corruption crusade in both public and private sector cannot thrive without adequate protective measures for those involved in its implementation, particularly those who come forward to testify.

“Whistle-blowing policy is rooted in and can best thrive on confidentiality and protection of implementers of the policy, of which the court should ensure that those who set up whistle-blowing policy are mindful of its ground rules, to avoid its high risk of retaliation. I so hold.” Justice Ogbuanya concluded.



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