SINGAPORE - A former director of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) consumer healthcare who was made redundant and sued the company for more than $1.4 million had his lawsuit dismissed by the High Court on Tuesday.
Mr Kallivalap Praveen Nair, who moved from India to Singapore in June 2018 after taking on the role of global expert director of the nutrition and digestive health business in the company, was told in December 2019 that no roles were available for him and that he would be made redundant.
In the suit, Mr Nair claimed $1.24 million in damages for breaches of his employment agreement with GSK consumer healthcare, which he alleged resulted in the loss of his opportunity to land two roles in the company and a role in Unilever to which GSK sold its nutrition business in April 2020. He contended that the company was obliged to adhere to its own policies, which included the code of conduct and equality policy to treat all employees equally.
In his judgment on Tuesday, Justice Kwek Mean Luck dismissed this claim along with two others by Mr Nair – that GSK consumer healthcare was liable to him for the shortfall in his severance payment of $148,809.83, and for the sum of $49,503.21 which he claimed was wrongfully withheld from his salary.
Mr Nair, who was represented by Rajah & Tann, argued that the employment agreement expressly imposes an obligation on GSK consumer healthcare to comply with its policies.
Justice Kwek said that on a plain reading, only Mr Nair was obliged to comply with the policies as the employee and not GSK consumer healthcare as the employer.
Mr Nair also argued that there was a term of mutual trust and confidence – the commitment owed between the employer and the worker – that was implied in the employment agreement. He argued that in Singapore law, the implied term made GSK consumer healthcare contractually bound to comply with its policies.
Justice Kwek said the submission that there was such an implied term in Singapore law is a very broad and far-reaching one. If accepted, it would lead to implications for other companies in the private, public and charity sectors and set a precedent for firms to be contractually bound by their own policies, said the judge.
“A ruling that such policies have contractual force could have widespread implications on the employer-employee dynamic in Singapore, raising many unanswered questions and uncertainties. For example, what are the implications if companies subsequently reframe their policies in order to limit such unintended legal exposure? What are the legal effects of internal policies that are not published to employees?” said the judge.
“These are highly pertinent questions that affect the landscape of employment relationship in Singapore.”
Justice Kwek ruled that it is not implied in Singapore law that a firm is contractually bound to comply with all its policies. He added that an employment dispute between two private parties was not an appropriate forum for determining that companies elsewhere are similarly contractually bound to comply with all their policies. He said that even if such an implied term existed, he would have dismissed the case as the facts do not bear out Mr Nair’s claim.
The judge also dismissed a counterclaim of $95,211.87 by GSK consumer healthcare. The company, which was represented by Wong & Leow, contended that the sum had been credited to Mr Nair in excess of what he was legally entitled to.