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X Ltd employs John as General Manager. After 1 year, X Ltd makes changes, and John’s qualifications are no longer good enough for the General Manager position. For that reason, X Ltd gives John notice, and lets him go. Naturally, John feels unfairly treated, and engages a lawyer. The lawyer sues X Ltd in court for “Unfair Termination”.

Mr Wolffe is the deputy CEO of Blind-Eye Company. Miss Greene is employed to be his secretary. In no time, Miss Greene starts complaining that Mr Wolffe is harassing her sexually. She makes the appropriate, but management does nothing about it. Miss Greene frustrated. Confused. Defeated. She quits and engages a lawyer. Her lawyer sues Blind-Eye Company and Mr Wolffe together in court for “Unfair Termination”.

In both scenarios, the employees (John and Miss Greene) should win comfortably on the facts. But they’re doomed to lose. Why? Their lawyers sued in the wrong place.

Your employer can generally let you go by giving you advance notice (of say 1 month). And your employer doesn’t have to tell you why you’re losing your job. This is the general law. It is typically repeated in employment contracts. If the employer follows these steps, then the termination is lawful. Otherwise, it’s unlawful. And this is what “Unlawful Termination” is.

You know what “unfair” means. “Unfair termination” implies that the letting-go of an employee involved some kind of discrimination (e.g. gender, race or maternity status) or victimisation. Sometimes, a worker experiences a change in their circumstances which the employer thinks is undesirable (e.g. they’re no longer qualified for the job they already hold because of a recent upgrade in job qualification, or a secretary has developed arthritis and can’t type the way they used to). It could be that a worker is sexually harassed, but nobody listens to their complaints, and they’re forced to quit. All these amount to unfair termination.

“Unfair Termination”, then, isn’t the same as “Unlawful Termination”. Indeed, the facts of a case may show that the letting-go of a worker was lawful but yet unfair.

Unfortunately, many lawyers don’t see the difference. I’ve been in court several times, minding my own business, when meddling lawyers have ‘gatecrashed’ on my case, preaching that I was merely splitting hairs.

“Unlawful Termination” has evolved over the years through court decisions, practice and (more recently) laws enacted by Parliament. “Unfair Termination” (on the other hand) was created by statute in Ghana (as in other countries). Typically, labour tribunals are the proper place to seek redress for “Unfair Termination”. In Ghana, that’d be the National Labour Commission. This position was clarified by the Supreme Court in a 2011 decision.

Many lawyers (set in their ways, or not diligent enough) continue to treat “Unfair Termination” and “Unlawful Termination” as twins. They continue to sue in the courts, and the judges keep throwing their hands up, frustrated. Perhaps, the National Labour Commission should take the lead in education. Otherwise, ‘unfairly terminated’ employees will continue to lose all their cases in the courts.