Court of Appeal overturns unfair dismissal award due to storeroom clerk’s employment contract breach.

Court of Appeal overturns unfair dismissal award due to storeroom clerk’s employment contract breach.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS-  The Court of Appeal has quashed and set aside an Industrial Tribunal award for wrongful and unfair dismissal after finding that a storeroom clerk was “author of his own misfortune,” having  breached his employment contract by failing to report to work despite repeated requests from his employer.

According to the appellate court’s decision in the appeal of Bradford Grand Bahama over an Industrial Tribunal decision in favour of its former employee Bradley Lord, “An employee who fails to report to work as required, and notwithstanding the expressed instructions of his employer to do so, commits a repudiatory breach of his employment contract which, if accepted by his employer, terminates the employment contract.”

Summarising the facts of the case the Court of Appeal noted that Lord has been employed with Bradford Grand Bahama for 17 years. “While on paid vacation leave, the respondent wrote the appellant requesting a three month leave of absence without pay stating “family emergency and persisting pivotal matters beyond his control” as reasons in support. A chain of emails followed. The appellant advised the respondent that his leave of absence request was denied and that he should return to work on 19 April 2021. The respondent failed to return to work on 19 April 2021. The appellant then advised the respondent that failure to attend work on the 26 April 2021 would be construed as voluntarily termination of his employment contract. The respondent failed to attend work on the said date and was terminated,” the court surmised. 

Lord filed a trade dispute with the Minister of Labour after the dispute could not be resolved the matter was referred to the Industrial Tribunal. The Tribunal found that Lord had been wrongfully and unfairly dismissed and awarded him damages.

The Court of Appeal stated, “In our judgment, the Tribunal clearly erred in law when it found that the respondent was wrongly or unfairly dismissed. The facts are not disputed. The respondent went on vacation. As his vacation was coming to an end, he requested three months unpaid leave. He was asked to give a reason for the request. His replies were contemptuous of his employer. He simply said “a private family mater”. When asked to give more specifics he refused to do so. He was told that his request for leave was refused and that he must return to work. He refused to do so. The appellant then told the respondent that it “considers that you have voluntarily terminated your contract of employment with the company by your persistent failure and/or refusal to report to work.”

According to the appellate court, Lord’s response to the request for reasons why he could not return to work were “completely unacceptable.”

“He did not claim that he or any member of his family was sick. He simply said that he could not return to work “for reasons beyond his control”. He provided nothing that said what those reasons were. In my judgment, no reasonable employer can be criticized for accepting the repudiatory breach by the respondent of his employment contract and terminating the employment. The termination was neither wrongful nor unfair,” said Sir Michael Barnett.