Tue | Jun 18, 2019

Dismissed accountant wins case against JN

Published:Friday | April 26, 2019 | 12:15 AMNeville Graham - Business Reporter

Clinton Reid took on his former employer, Jamaica National Building Society, JNBS, in a five-year battle, and won.

But the 50-year-old chartered accountant says the $8.5 million award granted by the Industrial Disputes Tribunal, IDT, is cold comfort at a time when he has lost his house and is losing hope of picking up another job after more than 120 applications and numerous interviews.

“No matter how I try, it has been hard,” said Reid. “They don’t raise it, but the grey area is always ‘how such a qualified person with three promotions in four years could be separated from his job just like that’?” he said.

JN Group, which has since transitioned from a building society and now operates a commercial bank, says it will not fight the IDT ruling.

Reid was separated from his job at JNBS in 2014. He was one of five finance managers employed by the group at the time.

In 2013, he was seconded to JN Money Services as the financial manager. That posting was supposed to last six months but was extended by another two, to May 2014. However, Reid testified before the IDT that when he showed up to work on June 2, 2014 to resume his substantive post in JN’s finance department, he was told to return the next day.

He complied, but on his return was advised that “there was no position for you to return to in the finance department”.

Head of the department, Joy Ann-Marie Brady, gave evidence to the IDT that the functions usually undertaken by Reid were shared among the other finance managers in the department and one function had been outsourced.

JN representatives argued before the IDT that as a result of Reid’s secondment and subsequent reorganisation of the department there was no longer a need for five finance managers. They pointed to Section (5)(2) of the Employment Termination and Redundancy Payments Act, ETRPA, as giving the company the right to dismiss staff by reason of redundancy. JN also submitted that it complied with the requirement for a process of consultations under ETRPA.

No genuine redundancy

Reid, who ended up pleading his own case after going through four representatives, pushed back against JN’s claim, arguing before the IDT that there was no proper consultation and no genuine redundancy in the finance department.

He also told the tribunal he was removed from JN’s payroll prior to March 31, 2014 while he was on secondment, and that his own boss in the finance department did not know of a planned redundancy exercise and did not participate in one at any stage.

The IDT in its deliberations said it was clear from all the evidence that the finance department only needed four persons when five were on staff. At the same time, the IDT noted the non-participation of Brady in the redundancy exercise and the fact that she was not copied on the redundancy letter sent to Reid.

The IDT said it found the evidence presented by JN regarding the redundancy process to be contradictory.

The IDT pointed to evidence that said Reid’s duties and functions were shared among the four remaining managers, but noted that at another point in the case, the evidence showed that the post and functions still exist in the finance department. Other evidence also showed that a single finance manager had taken over Reid’s duties.

In its findings, the IDT accepted that there was no need for a fifth manager in the finance department. But it also found that the post still existed there, and that there was a lack of transparency regarding the reason for Reid’s dismissal, who the tribunal described as the longest-serving and among the four most qualified and technically competent of the five managers.

The IDT, therefore, concluded that “the termination of the contract of employment of Mr Clinton Reid on the ground of redundancy was unjustifiable”, and awarded him compensation of $8.5 million. The ruling was handed down on April 8 of this year.

Reid did not request reinstatement in his old job.

Asked for comment on the case, JN Group said it would abide by the IDT ruling and is working to improve its systems and procedures.

“JN respects and will fully comply with the ruling of the IDT. The organisation believes in the legal framework that governs the employee relationship and in continuous process improvement,” said Andre Latty, executive in charge of people and culture, and group human resources development at JN. “Our HR processes have been the subject of review and we will continue to strengthen these processes,” he said.

Reid himself is disappointed that the tribunal did not give him a bigger award.

“I thought that the IDT would have given a more favourable look on my plea for remedies in light of the five years I’ve not been able earn, the suffering caused and the way the company acted. Twenty months’ pay cannot even begin to repair the damage,” he said.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com