NECA’s discrimination against pregnant woman

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Timothy Olawale
Timothy Olawale

By Anayo Ezugwu

VICTORIA Akanji, former employee of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, is a broken and traumatised woman. The expectant mother has been grievously injured by NECA where she worked hard to provide services for the association and its numerous members and clients.

Akanji’s ordeal began when she applied for her three months maternity leave, which the organization approved on January 14. The approved letter made available to Realnews indicated that she should proceed on the maternity leave on January 14 and resume back on April 7. The approved letter was signed by Adebola Bankole, personal assistant to director general of NECA.

In line with the association’s laydown procedures, on January 20, Akanji handed over to Kemi Ogundipe to work in her absence. In the internal memo to Ogundipe, Akanji said: “I have proceeded on a 12-week leave from Thursday 14th January 7, to April, 2020. In my absence, you will both be functioning as the pool secretary, while also performing your core responsibilities as instructed.”

But to the greatest surprise of Akanji and her family, on January 27, two weeks after commencing her maternity leave, she was sacked by NECA. The association alleged that her unsatisfactory performance led to the termination of her appointment. The termination letter signed by Timothy Olawale, director general, NECA, stated: “We wish to inform you that your services will no longer be required with effect from 31st January, 2020.  This is due to unsatisfactory performance on the job. In line with the organization’s terms and conditions of service, kindly hand over all association’s documents and possession by 31st January, 2020. Please note that your January salary has been paid into your account and a cheque in lieu of notice is also ready for pick up at the account office upon post handing over clearance.”

Since receiving the termination of appointment letter, Akanji as an expectant mother has suffered traumatic and psychological stress.  She is presently being attended and observed to by her physicians because the letter almost led to threatened abortion and adversely affected her pregnancy.

She has written to NECA to reverse its decision, saying she was wrongfully dismissed. According to a letter to NECA through Babatunde Adefila, her lawyer, Akanji alleged that the association discriminated against her because of her gender and condition. She claimed that there is no way NECA can sack her on unsatisfactory grounds because she scored above average in the 2019 workers appraisal evaluation.

“However, having stated a reason for the purported termination, your organization has put itself in the witness box to prove and substantiate the allegation that our client was terminated on ground of “unsatisfactory performance on the job.” Please recall that our esteemed client was rated above average in the 2019 staff appraisal and performance evaluation before she proceeded on her maternity leave.

“We wonder what could have happened between 14th January, 2020 and 27th January, 2020 when the said letter of termination was crafted and served on our client. To terminate an employee on grounds of non-performance or poor performance, it must be established that performance evaluation was conducted by your organization. Thereafter, there should be formal performance warning, first and second informal performance warning and the affected Employee’s opportunity to be given a fair hearing before he/her employment can he validly terminated.

“It is amazing that none of these steps was taken. The termination is therefore wrongful, unlawful and in bad faith and coming during the pendency of approved maternity leave it is an afterthought and should be withdrawn with immediate effect,” it said.

Adefila also alleged that the termination of appointment has damaged the reputation of Akanji. “It is also instructive to state that the wordings of the purported letter of termination and the allegation contained therein are not only wicked, but libelous of our client and capable of preventing her from securing any employment in future.

“Undoubtedly, no employer wants to hire a non-performing or under-performing employee. The allegation has damaged and tarnished our client’s reputation in the estimation of prospective employer as a non-performing or unserious employee.

“In view of the following, we demand on behalf of our valued client as follows: an immediate unconditional withdrawal of the said letter of termination and retraction of the libelous statement or allegation against our client; unreserved apologies to our client for the libelous statement/allegation and wrongful termination of employment.

“Immediate payment of our client maternity leave allowance and salary for the three months of maternity leave and thereafter allow our client to voluntarily resign her appointment with one month’s notice given to your organization with effect from 31th May 2020 if your organization is no longer willing to retain the services of our client; and the sun of N10 million only being damages for wrongful termination of her employment and defamation of character of our client and the trauma and psychological stress she was subjected to as a result of her pregnancy.

“Your organization is advised to comply with the above demands within seven days of receipt of this letter, failing which we shall not hesitate to employ all machinery at our disposal, including but not limited to the institution of a legal proceedings against your organization at the National Industrial Court of Nigeria to seek redress on behalf of our client. Please note that our client is not adverse to an amicable resolution of this matter provided your organization is ready to meet up with our client’s demands within the above stipulated ultimatum,” the letter said.

But when contacted, Timothy Olawale, director general, NECA, said if she is satisfied with the outcome of the association’s disciplinary measures, she is at liberty to go to the industrial court. “How did you come about the story? These are routine disciplinary issues and I wonder why it has become a subject of the media.

“That is why I wanted to know how you come about it. We hire, we discipline, we disengage and there is nothing about it. It is just a routine that happens in the cause of work. I’m just curious why you are interested in this particular one. There are lay down procedures in every organization, if she is not happy with the situation report, she should exploit other lay down procedures.

“And the lay down procedure is to go to industrial court. So there are internal mechanisms which she can avail herself of and I’m not aware she has done that. And there are other external mechanisms and since she has commissioned you to be her spokesperson, you should help her to go through all the mechanisms,” he said.

– Feb. 5, 2020 @ 18:35 GMT |

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