Too many employers are ignoring the precepts of due process and natural justice when it comes to dealing with their employees, says Chairman of the Employment Rights Tribunal, Justice Christopher Blackman.
According to the former High Court Judge, since he and the other members of the tribunal were sworn in two months ago, this has been one of the recurring themes in the cases heard thus far.
“I don’t think employers are sufficiently respectful of the rules of natural justice or what some may describe as due process. Employers tend to be a little cavalier in how they treat their employees. We see things like summary dismissals without the benefit of a fair hearing,” said Blackman, who was responding to questions from reporters, following an update on the progress of the newly empanelled tribunal.
Blackman warned employers to check their processes for disciplining their employees, ensuring that it is conducted in a fair and transparent manner.
“If you have a dispute, your human resources department should have a mechanism to ensure that the person who is going to adjudicate that dispute is free and independent of management and that they are not contaminated by the views of management. So, if the employee looks at the possible disciplinary structure and is not comfortable with the person presiding, a sensible employer would get somebody else,” he explained.
He further revealed that this flaw was by no means limited to the private sector, as the tribunal has come across cases where statutory corporations are guilty of these infractions.
“There must be a proper process for employers and in particular parastatal employers or agencies of the government. There can’t be one rule for them and another for others. As long as I sit in this chair, I am going to apply the rules as the rule of law dictates that they ought to be applied,” he stressed.
Blackman’s position was supported by Minister of Labour, Colin Jordan, who was also present at today’s press briefing.
“You can get the sense that this tribunal is not going to be playing favourites. Government is not going to be treated any differently from any other employer, The rules are the rules and justice will be done,” said Jordan.
The Minister also urged employers to avail themselves of the services of labour organisations, which can guide them with regards to the appropriate manner in dealing with their employees.
“There are institutions and bodies of knowledge that are available to employers that will assist them in making decisions. I am aware that not every employer has the capacity to employ an HR manager but that does not mean that every decision has to be a bad one,” he said, noting that employers can even get some guidance from the island’s trade unions.
Jordan pointed out that employers would do well to remember that their employees are human and therefore the adage, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ is a good base for a company’s disciplinary procedures.