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askST: Parting with employees on good terms

What is considered a wrongful dismissal? What should you do if you have been wrongfully dismissed? The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) advises employers and employees on what to do when employment is terminated

 Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), employment, retrenchment, manpower, Singapore
Read the Tripartite Guidelines on Wrongful Dismissal to find out what is considered a wrongful dismissal. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Q: Under what circumstances is a dismissal considered wrongful?

A: Dismissal, or the termination of employment by an employer, is wrong when an employee is terminated without just or sufficient cause.

The Tripartite Guidelines on Wrongful Dismissal lays out various circumstances that are considered wrongful dismissals.

They include:

  • Discrimination based on age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, or disability
  • Depriving an employee of benefits/entitlements, like maternity benefits
  • Punishment for exercising an employment right, such as dismissing an employee after he or she submits a mediation request to TADM for salary-related claims
  • Falsifying reasons for dismissal

If misconduct or poor performance is cited as the reason for the dismissal, the onus is on the employer to prove the grounds for dismissal. The dismissal is considered wrongful if the employer is unable to do so.

What employers must do to be fair

It is important for employers to ensure that employment termination is conducted fairly with proper communication. Employers should note the following before terminating any employee.

  • Explain the reasons for terminating the affected employee in a clear and sensitive manner
  • Provide the affected employee with a termination letter in writing and informing him or her in person unless it is impractical to do so
  • Provide notice or salary-in-lieu of notice for the termination
  • Pay all contractual obligations due to the employee on the last day of employment. If this is not possible, then employers may pay all contractual obligations due to them within three working days from the last day of employment

Where instances of misconduct arise, employers are expected to show proof of these if they decide to dismiss someone without notice. An inquiry must be conducted to allow the affected employee to present his or her case before deciding on dismissal.

Redundancy is a valid reason for termination of service. However, employers should consider retrenchment only if all other options, such as redeployment, have been exhausted.

Q: How can employers minimise grievances and potential conflicts at the workplace?

A: Employers should adopt the following practices to help prevent and address potential conflicts at the workplace.

Communicate company policies clearly

Job expectations, codes of conduct, human resources (HR) policies such as organisational policies, disciplinary procedures, grievance handling processes, as well as other relevant information should be clearly communicated and made available to all employees.

New employees should be properly briefed on these matters as part of the company’s onboarding process.

Set up a grievance handling process

Workplace grievances, if managed poorly, can adversely affect employee morale and productivity, leading to wider implications for the organisation. Setting up a formal grievance handling process can provide a safe channel for employees to raise their grievances without fear or worry.

Carry out objective and regular performance reviews

Employers should use a combination of formal appraisals and regular feedback to monitor and assess employee performance.

Employers should develop objective, measurable standards for performance evaluation, review their criteria regularly and keep records of all performance reviews for at least a year.

Beyond formal appraisals, supervisors should also provide regular performance feedback to give employees the opportunity to improve their performance.

Q: What recourse do employees have if they feel that they have been wrongfully dismissed?

A: Disputes may arise when an employer believes the company has contractually terminated an employment on fair grounds, but the affected employee thinks otherwise.

Many disputes can be resolved amicably with open communication. Employers should clearly explain the basis for the termination. Employees should seek clarification with the company via the HR department or other available internal channels to better understand why they have been dismissed.

If both parties cannot resolve the dispute, employees covered under the Employment Act can file a request for mediation of a wrongful dismissal claim with TADM.

Find out if you are covered by the Employment Act.

Managers or executives who have been dismissed with notice must have served their employers for at least six months. The employee’s request for mediation of the wrongful dismissal claim against his or her employer must be submitted to TADM within one month from the last day of his or her employment.

Have other burning questions on employment matters?

Find the answers to them in our askST series.

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 Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM)