The court ruled that termination of the claimant’s employment is in breach of the parties’ contract of employment.
He was wrongfully fired by Arik Air Ltd, now he gets N53.2 million for being wronged.
Just like other aspects of our lives, there are principles of law guiding the employer-employee relationship in Nigeria. In the same vein, there are rules of law regulating how an employer or an employee can terminate an employment.
Employment offers are guided by employment contracts. Depending on the circumstances that led to the termination, whether lawful or unlawful, the remedy is mostly compensation or payment of all entitlements or reinstatement in some cases.
The National Industrial Court in its recent decision dated February 14, 2022, in a suit between Rotovic Miroslav and Arik Air Ltd, declared that the claimant was entitled to damages against the defendant for the wrongful termination of the claimant’s employment.
Let’s explore the case.
The facts of the case
Rotovic Miroslav, was an employee of Arik Air employed on July 31, 2007, as a pilot to fly its B737 NG series Aircraft. According to his submissions before the court, his salary was $128,400 per annum which was later reviewed to $138,000 on September 20, 2016.
He said On March 31, 2017, Arik Air wrote him a letter terminating his employment on the grounds that his services were no longer required. Before the termination of his employment, the airline was owing him salary arrears from September 1, 2016, to January 31, 2017.
On May 8, 2018, he instituted a suit against Arik air seeking a declaration that the termination of his employment via that letter was in breach of the parties’ contract of employment and therefore invalid, wrongful and unlawful. He also demanded financial damages of N50 million as general damages for the wrongful termination of his employment, $57,500 for payment of his outstanding salary arrears, $34,500 as three-month salary in lieu of notice and N500,000 as the cost of the suit.
The defendant (Arik Air Ltd.) in its statement of defence submitted that the termination of Mr Miroslav’s appointment was done following a takeover of operations of the airline by Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) which led to a restructuring of its operations.
On the damages sought by the claimant, the defendants contended that Mr Miroslav was employed by Arik Air International S.A and not Arik Air Limited as such, the defendant is not liable for the claims of the claimant. They urged the court to dismiss the claim of the claimant.
What the judge ruled
Justice E. N. Agbakoba, after listening to submissions and arguments from parties in the suit, declared that the claimant is entitled to damages against the defendant for the wrongful termination of the claimant’s employment. Consequently, he held as follows;
“It is hereby declared that the purported terminations of the claimant’s employment vide a letter dated 31st March 2017 and headed Letter of termination of employment is in breach of the parties’ contract of employment and therefore wrongful.
“By the order of this honourable court, the Defendants shall pay to the Claimant the sum $57,500 (fifty-seven, five hundred dollars) or its naira equivalent being outstanding salary arrears from September 2016 to January 2017 at the rate of $1 1,500 per month.
“By the order of this Honourable Court the Defendants shall pay to the Claimant the sum of $34,500 (thirty-four thousand, Five hundred dollars) as three months’ salary in lieu of notice as contained in the agreement between the parties.
“By the order of this Honourable Court the Defendants shall pay to the Claimant an additional sum of $34,500 (thirty-four thousand, Five hundred dollars) being three months’ salary as general damages for the wrongful termination of his employment.”
The judge also ordered Arik Air to pay the claimant (Mr Miroslav) the sum of N500,000 as cost of instituting the suit.
Basis for judgement
On the issue of whether the claimant was entitled to the claims, the judge held that by virtue of section 14 of the NICA 2006, the claimant is entitled to not only the unpaid salaries but salary for the entire period of the fixed tenure in law.
“The claimant reliefs are for his rights to notice and outstanding pay. By the Exhibits before the court particularly Exhibits C2 and C4 the claimant has satisfied the court as to amounts being calcimined and by the letter of termination that he was not given notice,” the judge said.
On Arik Air Ltd claim that Arik International is the employer of the claimant, the judge held that “I find that the co-employment does actually exist and is a concept recognised by this court. The issue of secondment creates the basis that the wordings of the agreement are clear that the parties intended that the defendant act and be the employer of the claimant and brook no other interpretation.
“So all the submissions of the defendant that the claimant is not their employee and the role of the Arik International S.A. I find got no purpose at all as the court recognises the concept of triangular employment and secondly the Contract of employment specifically established the employer of the claimant. The submission of the defendants in this regard is hereby disregarded as having no bearing whatsoever.”
As stated by the judge, an employment relationship where an employee of company A is redeployed by A to work for company B is often referred to as a triangular employment relationship.
For the N50 million damages sought by the claimant, the court held that “The claimant asked for damages of N50, 000,000 (fifty Million Naira) bur did not show the court how he arrived at this sum and the injury he sustained this amount is to assuage, the law is clear as to what an employee is entitled to as damages for wrongful termination, what he would have earned if given his due which in this instance is 3 months salary in lieu of notice. Except whether the defendant is shown to have acted in a way that caused the claimant malfeasance.”
What you should know
The employment contract is a vital determinant of what plays out between the employer and the employee in the course of the working relationship.
According to Sections 11(6) and (9) of the Labour Act, either the employer or employee can terminate the employment by giving the other party the requisite notice or payment of salary in lieu of notice.
Just like a regular contract, both parties have the right to bring the contract to an end at any time. However, the appropriate notice must be given. So, where there is a termination of employment without following these rules, it will amount to unlawful termination of employment.
There is a difference between the termination of employment and dismissal. When either party terminates the employment, the employee is still entitled to the benefits under that employment relationship. However, when an employee is dismissed, the employee loses all benefits due to him. Dismissal is more of punishment or disciplinary action against an employee.
Join our WhatsApp Group to receive news and other valuable information alerts on WhatsApp.