Forum: Difficult for workers to substantiate wrongful dismissal claims

Recent figures published by the Ministry of Manpower and Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) show more employment-related appeals (More locals sought help on salary disputes, wrongful dismissals, July 10).

This indicates a commendable effort to help employees recover owed salaries and compensation in cases of wrongful dismissal.

But the particularly low number of wrongful dismissal claims leads to the question: Are there factors that keep employees from seeking help when unfairly terminated?

To start with, we should consider the difficulties in substantiating wrongful dismissal claims.

The Tripartite Guidelines on Wrongful Dismissal provide useful scenarios of what a wrongful dismissal looks like. To prove that the termination was made based on the specified "wrongful" provisions, the employee has to corroborate the claim with evidence.

However, many wrongful dismissal situations are subtle and difficult to document.

This is seen often in maternity discrimination, for example. Though it's not, in theory, illegal to dismiss someone who has just returned to work after maternity leave, such a dismissal would be wrongful if the employer's attitudes and behaviours conveyed a discriminatory attitude towards women with family care responsibilities.

The Association of Women for Action and Research's Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory has seen multiple cases involving employees who have either been asked to resign once they return from maternity leave, or are dismissed because of contractual termination.

Subtle discriminatory remarks about caregiving responsibilities were made in phone conversations or video meetings.

That these were not in writing, which would provide a paper trail, did not help the employees' cases.

This lack of hard evidence discourages many employees from approaching TADM.

Another commonly cited reason for not approaching TADM: The damaging effects of workplace harassment (bullying and sexual harassment) on workers, which often cause them to resign, are not mentioned in the guidelines on wrongful dismissal, and employees don't know how TADM will perceive their grievances.

Finally, the tripartite partners should take into consideration how many workers are simply unaware of TADM's existence as a recourse option for wrongful dismissal.

The tripartite partners should, therefore, consider taking measures to address these points, and avoid wrongfully dismissed employees from slipping through the cracks.

Mamta Melwani

Senior Executive, Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory

Association of Women for Action and Research