Fri | Jan 18, 2019

BOJ worker fired over use of pseudonym triumphs in court case

Published:Friday | November 24, 2017 | 12:00 AMMcPherse Thompson

A Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) worker who was dismissed over his use of a pseudonym for personal calls that were unpaid has been ordered reinstated to his job or compensated with nine months' pay.

The Supreme Court sided with an Industrial Disputes Tribunal, IDT, finding that Frank Johnson was not always afforded representation in disciplinary proceedings nor given the right to appeal his dismissal.

That, the court ruled, was a breach of "natural justice".

BOJ, which requested a judicial review of the IDT decision by the Supreme Court, told the Financial Gleaner this week that it was reviewing the court's ruling before deciding its next course of action. Asked whether it would compensate or reinstate Johnson, the central bank said it "does not usually respond on matters to do with staff or former staff in the media".

The Financial Gleaner was unable to locate Johnson for comment. Attorneys Carla Thomas and Christine McNeil represented the IDT, but McNeil said they only dealt with the tribunal.

Johnson was assistant director of the central bank's Training Institute at the time of his dismissal in July 2013.

His use of the pseudonym came to light after an internal audit conducted seven months earlier, which revealed that the charges for personal calls placed with the access code of a 'Sabrina Lewis' were unpaid. BOJ operates a code-authentication system that allows it to collate phone bills and help employees track and pay for their personal calls.

A follow up investigation by the central bank confirmed there was no employee on staff with that name, and that no Sabrina Lewis had ever been employed there.

Johnson subsequently disclosed, according to the court judgment handed down this month, that he was initially given the code by a telecommunications technician while his extension underwent repairs.

A disciplinary panel first recommended to the committee of administration - an intermediate review panel comprising deputy governors and division chiefs at the central bank - that Johnson be suspended for 30 days without pay.

However, the panel, based on instructions from the committee of administration, subsequently reviewed and reversed itself and recommended termination, which was ratified by the bank's management committee. The latter committee is the decision-making body comprising the BOJ's governor, senior deputy governor, deputy governors and the general counsel.

Johnson's union eventually intervened, first demanding his reinstatement, without success; and later referring the dispute to the Ministry of Labour, which in turn referred it to the IDT. By majority decision in September 2015, the IDT found that Johnson's dismissal was unjustified.

The Supreme Court sided with the IDT that the composition of the managing committee, comprising 83.33 per cent or five of six members of the committee of administration, displayed a lack of transparency and gave rise to accusations of victimisation, discrimination, bias and unfair treatment.

One bank employee had also played multiple roles in the investigation against Johnson, which the court agreed breached the rules of natural justice.

The IDT noted that Senior Director of Human Resources, Pension Policy and Training Institute Manager Novelette Panton participated in the groundwork investigations, conducted interviews, requested and reviewed the various reports and, being the person to decide if there was a matter to be heard, was also the chairperson of the disciplinary panel.

The tribunal also ruled that there was no evidence to contradict the contention of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union that the BOJ failed to observe the provisions of the Labour Relations Code when Johnson's employment was terminated without the right to be represented at all material times or provided the right to appeal. It said the bank could have arranged for an external agent to provide that level of support, including the Ministry of Labour.