Recently, an employer in Lagos, Nigeria tweeted about how he turned back his employees who came late to work, giving the heavy downpour as an excuse. He emphasized how the employees were aware of the company’s seriousness with punctuality.
The tweet caused mixed reactions online; some supporting his action and some others criticizing it. Conversations about the employer-employee relationship is not a prevalent topic in Nigeria as many believe in the ‘at all at all na im bad pass’ slang used to connote the idea that any form of employment is better than unemployment considering the high level of unemployment in Nigeria.
Some employees, regardless of the ‘at all at all na im bad pass’ slang, lament their unpleasant experience in what they call ‘toxic workplace’ where employers would ‘use’ them outside their job description and still treat them in a condescending manner without recourse to their dignity as humans
Olusegun O. Mabawonku, a Lagos based legal practitioner reacts to the trend and sensitizes Nigerian employees on the minimum acceptable standards of workplace treatment from employers. His area of practice spans across all aspects of Dispute Resolution. He is intentional about human capital and people relationship and advocates for fair workplace treatment of employees by their employers. His favourite quote being ‘Dum Vivimus Servimus’, meaning ‘While we live, we serve.’
Reacting to the incident, he speaks
“I think that is one of the most insensitive posts I’ve seen on social media lately, especially coming from an employer himself. That’s one of the reasons why organisations and corporate establishments must endeavor to have human resource personnel specially trained to handle employee relationships. All employers should strive to be skilled in human relationships as well. It’s inhuman considering the kind of environment we have in Lagos. Once there is 30 minutes of rain, the whole road network is blocked, not to mention when it rained for more than an hour. I won’t be surprised that the organization/employer in question does not have a welfare package that caters for the transportation of its members of staff. I can bet that those employees do overtime and don’t get paid for the extra hours spent at work because this happens in majority workplaces in Nigeria, wherein you see employees working overtime without remunerations. And this happens because most employees do not know when their rights are actually infringed upon and those that know are scared of victimization. Even amongst lawyers; young lawyers are being maltreated a lot. You see lawyers having to do jobs that they are not supposed to do. Some work in firms where they get meals for their bosses, go to the mall and are sent on errands of various kinds outside the scope of their employment and there is no additional compensation for that. Also, many bosses bring in their respective cultural backgrounds in dealing with their employees (who might be from a different cultural background as well) instead of sticking to professionalism. Imagine an employer expecting an employee to always say thank you whenever salary is paid or to always take permission before leaving the office after the agreed closing time. And when an employee does not submit to that kind of treatment, they are tagged as rude, proud, incorrigible and all sorts of demeaning names.
So, first things first.
Employees should ensure that the terms of their employment are clearly spelt out in writing, that is, in a letter of employment. It does not matter how unstructured the work place is. All employment must be in writing. Some basic things to look out for in a letter of employment are:
- Date of commencement of employment.
- The exact employer to be worked for.
- The venue/location (remotely, at the head office, branch office) etc.
- Responsibilities/ Duties/ Job description.
- Work hours.
- Duration of employment where appropriate.
- What is the probation period?
- Remuneration clause (Gross remuneration and Net Remuneration (after allowable deductions).
- Are the provisions of the conditions of Service/ Employees Handbook/ Collective Bargain Agreement part of the contract?
- The termination clause should also be included to state how the contract can be terminated by either parties, the required notice period etc.
Where there is a letter of employment and the need for some conflict resolution arises, the court recourse will be made to the wordings of the agreement existing between the parties.”
Speaking about the Nigerian Labour Act which according to him applies to mostly unskilled workers (i.e. employees engaged under contract of manual labour or clerical work in private and public sectors), Olusegun highlighted some provisions that cater for the wellbeing of employees thus:
- “There must be the dignity of humans. Forced labour is illegal in Nigeria as you cannot force a willing employer on an unwilling employee and vice versa except in extenuating cases for example, where the country is at a war and all the men are conscripted into the military for the defence of the nation. Aside from that, there should be no forced labour.
- All contracts must be in written form. Just as I mentioned earlier, it is risky to not have a written agreement. There was a case of a lady in Portharcourt. She was employed as Secretary and eventually ended up being a cleaner and messenger. She fell ill and was relieved of her work but was asked to turn in her letter of resignation before she could be paid her salary for the month. She was taken aback, knowing that she wasn’t given a letter of employment in the first place. When she reached out to us for legal help, the only evidence she could provide as proof that she was an employee was an online chat between her and the HR personnel.
When it comes to the laid down terms in the letter of employment, many employees just accept it out of excitement without going through it thoroughly. They do not know that they could seek advice from an experienced and reliable source and then get back to their employer to adjust any clause that does not augur well with them. For example, some organizations include a clause that says that for a certain period of time when an employee leaves the organization, they (the employee) cannot work in another company in the same line of business as them (competitors). The question is ‘what will the employee be doing for that period?’ ‘Who will pay that employee for that period?’ Many employees would not take this into consideration. But if they seek advice, there would be a proposition for the organization to include a payment compensation for the employee throughout the period or to reduce the length to a reasonable period of time.
- Payment of wages: Employers are required to pay their employees in legal tender. It is not recognized when salary is paid in money’s worth. For instance, working in a factory where they make fabrics and sell clothes and there’s an agreement that the employee’s salary would be #100,000, then the employer now decides that for this month, payment be made by giving the employee 1,000 yards of ‘ankara’. Whether 1,000 yards of ‘ankara’ is more expensive than hundred thousand naira (#100,000) or not, it is not the employee’s concern. If you’re giving from your benevolence, that is a different issue but you cannot infuse it on the employee to collect it as salary. The agreement is money (naira), the legal tender that is acceptable in Nigeria.
- Salary deduction: It’s actually not appropriate to deduct salaries of employees because they came late and still make them work. You could issue a query or suspension without pay. For example, it is absurd to say that because an employee came late, you would deduct their salaries without taking into consideration that the employee worked on the said day. You cannot deduct an employee’s salary for coming late and still make them work on that deduction. Salary mostly is wages; it’s just computed and paid in bulk at the end of the month. So if you as an employer have deducted the wages for the day an employee came late, it is inappropriate for that employee to still be made to work on that day.
- In a situation where the line of work has a trade union, it is inappropriate for the employer to restrict their employee from joining the trade unions. That is illegal unless a consensus of the employees agrees not to join or the employee individually decides not to.
- Sick leave, rest hour and holidays. If a worker has worked for more than six hours or more than six hours in a day, they are entitled to a break of at least one hour. This could vary depending on the contract of employment.
Every worker is entitled to a 12- day paid sick leave for temporary illness that is certified by a medical practitioner. If it elongates after 12 days, the company may decide not to pay. Mind you, the person need not spend the whole 12 days. It didn’t state whether in a month or in a year but whenever it happens, you’re entitled to it.
If you work for about 12 months, it’s equivalent that you can be entitled to a minimum of six working days leave for that year, excluding all public holidays. These are just the minimum benchmarks. It’s not saying this must be it. We have organisations where they give their employees twenty (20)days leave, 2 weeks leave and some organisations make it even more easy that you can use the 20 days all through the year at your discretion.
For women, there must be maternity leave. The duration varies for employers, too. In fact, in Lagos now, three is a new development for paternity leave. It’s an applaudable development. All these leaves are paid leaves.
- Transfer of employment: If an employee starts working for an organisation and the organisation decides to transfer the employee, unless the person has initially agreed to subsequent transfer, the employer must seek the permission of the employee.
- Termination Clause: There must be a mode of terminating an employment clearly stated. You cannot just wake up and use word of mouth to terminate an employee’s relationship. The same way an employee cannot just wake up and use word of mouth to say they are not working again. There has to be a notice period given.
Organisations are at liberty to set their own standards of agreement; they might not necessarily follow the minute details in this Act particularly with regards to skilled/professional workers. However, the provisions of the Act are sacrosanct and employers are to take a cue from it while framing their respective contracts. This is a wakeup call.
Let me also state that just as we have employees’ rights guaranteed, we also have that of the employers’ protected as well.”
“My parting word is that as an employee, if you feel your rights are being violated or you have been or are being unfairly treated at your place of work, kindly seek the redress mechanism at your place of work and where the issue persists, go see a lawyer. Lawyers fees are very affordable. It might interest you to note that apart from certain legal services which attract a fixed percentage, a lawyer would charge you a fee giving consideration to your financial wherewithal. It might interest you to also know that in law, there is what we call Contingency Fee. You can agree that after you’ve gotten the remedy, then you pay the lawyer an agreed percentage of whatever amount you get from the case. In Lagos, we have public and non- profit organisations that ensure the rights of employees are protected. We have lawyers that do pro bono cases as well. You just have to get the right information at all times.
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