HR matters – treat people fairly

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It is good when an aggrieved employee can savour the sweet taste of justice after an unfair dismissal, even after a lengthy wait and much financial inconvenience.

The Barbados Employment Rights Tribunal [ERT] met recently on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, during which its chairperson, retired High Court Judge Christopher Blackman declared the decision of the tribunal in the case of Deborah Brathwaite vs First Citizens Bank [Barbados] and announced its award of compensation for Keith Lewis, a former employee of the Lodge School.

In the case of Lewis vs the Board of Management [BOM] of the Lodge School [2014], the employee’s dismissal was deemed unfair, and the tribunal has ruled that the BOM of the school compensate the ex-employee. This recent ERT ruling truly supports the call of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union [BSTU] that contingent upon being appointed a member of a School’s BOM, appointees must engage in some form of mandatory basic industrial relations training. Certainly, this call extends to Secretary Treasurers of BOMs, their supporting staff and Principals. BOMs must recognize there are labour laws in place governing the employment relationship.

Having sat and listened to the tribunal’s decision in both cases, and Justice Blackman’s commentary relating to First Citizens Bank, it is obvious that his finger is on the pulse of what is happening to workers, in some situations, during the course of their employment. His timely call to “follow the rules in firing [dismissing]” was not only to First Citizens Bank but also generally to employers and their agents. Indeed, employers and employer representatives must be made to understand that their actions have implications for the organization’s reputation and bottom line, especially if not taken correctly.

As a student of human resource management and a practitioner of industrial relations management, when wearing another hat, these cases naturally attract my attention. Furthermore, I agree, human resource managers [HRMs] and officers must truly understand their real role within organizations. HRMs stand midway between the management ‘elites’ and employees. Their job is to manage the HR function effectively and efficiently in line with law and best practice. To ‘Manage’ should not mean throwing an employee ‘under the bus’ when such an opportunity presents itself, without consideration given to established procedures, and fairness and without regard for consequences.

There is a large degree of employee representation which should be part of the function of the HR department. HR must be able to see and know when an injustice is being or about to be perpetrated against a vulnerable employee and therefore, should prevent such from occurring.

Too often, HR seems to think that their role is only to follow the dictates of higher management when treating to employees, no matter how silly or unnecessarily draconian the action against the employee turns out to be.

HR practitioners must be highly knowledgeable of employment law, must have a ‘heart’, and must be fair in all dealings with employee matters, even difficult ones. HR must be able to advise management on proper procedures and practices in industrial relations. Indeed, if the company considers itself lacking competence in this area of Human Resource and Industrial Relations Management, then such skills and advice should be hired in from an independent practitioner.

The July 30th 2019 decision by the ERT in the unfair dismissal case of Brathwaite vs First Citizens Bank is one which should make for interesting reading by Employers and their agents responsible for HR matters.

Because of the bank’s flawed investigative and disciplinary process, which led to the unfair dismissal of the employee, compensation will now have to be considered for the aggrieved worker. This is the price the bank will pay for the unfair dismissal of its former employee; and the Bank and others should learn from this experience.

In summary, if there is one thing my HR colleagues and others can take away from this article it is this – “Don’t be so quick to fire/dismiss an employee. Carefully consider the process prior to the dismissal decision. Give the employee a fair hearing. Does the investigative and dismissal process conform to the requirement of fairness as stipulated in the ER Act? Is dismissal the only course of action given the circumstances? When in doubt, seek quality advice from an external third party not connected to the company, even if it means paying for such advice.”

A word to the wise is enough – an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

By: Carseen Greenidge | www.ceegeeblogs.com | eMail: carseen@ceegeeblogs.com

Carseen Greenidge is a #Blogger, Educator, Marketer and Communication Strategist with an opinion and interest in human resource management, industrial relations and public affairs.

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