Case Update: Another company’s retrenchment of employees due to COVID-19/MCO deemed unfair by Industrial Court

In this Case Update series, I share summaries of recent Malaysian court decisions to explore the current approach taken by the courts when deciding on employment-related issues. You can find all the posts in the series by clicking here, including case updates on other legal areas by TheMalaysianLawyer co-founder Lee Shih.

There was a very sharp rise in retrenchment numbers in Malaysia in 2020, particularly in the aftermath of the first Movement Control Order (MCO), which started in March 2020. We are now seeing Industrial Court decisions as a result of unfair dismissal complaints lodged by employees who had their employment terminated in the first half of 2020, and I expect we will continue to see a steady succession of these decisions in the coming months.

As I have often explained, while employers are legally entitled to dismiss employees where the retrenchment is for genuine reasons, employers must be able to show that the termination was not improperly motivated. I recently highlighted one case where the Industrial Court decided that the retrenchment of an employee, which the employer said was due to the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, was an unfair dismissal: “Case Update: Industrial Court finds retrenchment due to effects of COVID-19/MCO was unfair”.

In this article, I summarise four recent awards involving retrenchments carried out at the same time by the same employer, which the employer said was due to the effects of the MCO and pandemic:

  1. Mohamad Sahrul Bin Kahulan v. Lourdes Medical Services Sdn Bhd (Award No. 1295 of 2021).
  2. Gawri A/P Muthadakan v. Lourdes Medical Services Sdn Bhd (Award No. 1296 of 2021).
  3. Lalitha A/P Subramaniam v. Lourdes Medical Services Sdn Bhd (Award No. 1297 of 2021).
  4. Rasalechumi A/P Kanagaratnam v. Lourdes Medical Services Sdn Bhd (Award No. 1298 of 2021).
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Employee poor performance: Some recent cases

The proper management of under-performing employees is always a tricky proposition. While the law recognises poor performance as one of the reasons that would constitute “just cause” for dismissing an employee, many employers make mistakes which result in dismissed employees winning unfair dismissal claims. There have also been instances where employees have been able to walk out and claim that they have been constructively dismissed due to the employer putting them on a performance improvement plan (“PIP”).

There are many variables that will determine whether a poor performance termination was carried out fairly. It’s always useful for employers and decision-makers to review how other employers have managed under-performing employees. In this article, I briefly summarise the following recent cases related to PIPs and poor performance dismissals:

  1. Azura Norden v. Small Medium Enterprise Development Bank Malaysia Berhad (Award No. 94 of 2021).
  2. Charles Selvam Andrew Francis v. Kebabangan Petroleum Operating Company Sdn Bhd (Award No. 256 of 2021).
  3. Thomas Kuruvilla v. Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation Sdn Bhd (Award No. 151 of 2021).

These summaries will provide valuable insights on the issues the Industrial Court considers when assessing performance-related terminations.

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Case Update: Potential pitfalls where an employee is engaged by a Malaysian service provider for a foreign employer

In this Case Update series, I share summaries of recent Malaysian court decisions to explore the current approach taken by the courts when deciding on employment-related issues. You can find all the posts in the series by clicking here, including case updates on other legal areas by TheMalaysianLawyer co-founder Lee Shih.

Technology has facilitated the increasingly global reach of many businesses, and now even small businesses find it easy to establish a multi-jurisdictional presence. This global footprint, plus the increasing popularity of remote-working arrangements which has been further accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more common for employers to hire employees in countries where they do not have a physical presence or legal entity.

Foreign companies use several options to engage individuals in Malaysia, broadly falling under the direct or indirect methods (or a combination). With the direct method, a foreign company would engage an individual directly, either as an employee or a contractor, using a contract either — (a) governed by Malaysian law; or (b) governed by the laws of the company’s home jurisdiction.

The indirect method is commonly known as “business process outsourcing” or “professional employer services” but also goes by many other names, and there are various interchangeable terminologies used. Essentially, this is a “third party employment” arrangement, whereby a foreign employer would engage a “local host employer” as a service provider, and this service provider would then engage the employees directly to perform services for the foreign employer. These local “professional employer organisations” would be responsible for arranging the payroll and statutory contributions and deductions for these “leased employees”, and would be the official “employer of record”. Using a local entity is unavoidable where the employee needs to apply for a work permit/visa.

I’ve advised employer clients on the engagement of employees using all of these options, and each of them have their respective advantages and disadvantages, and potential pitfalls for both employers and employees.

This article reviews the Industrial Court decision in Wong Wai Che vs. Quest BPO Sdn Bhd (Award No. 201 of 2021), involving an employee engaged by a foreign employer entity via a Malaysian service provider.

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Is it legal for Malaysian employers to make vaccinations mandatory for employees?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought up seemingly endless unique legal challenges for businesses and employers for the past 18 months, and counting. Beginning with lockdown and restrictions, remote working, paycuts, retrenchments and reorganisations, businesses in Malaysia and many other jurisdictions are now focusing on reopening, and hopefully moving into a post-pandemic future.

In recent weeks, we have been reading about the issue of mandating vaccines for employees. The legality of so-called “no jab no job” policies continues to be debated in major jurisdictions such as the UK, US, and Europe, where the reopening of the economy is at a more advanced stage than Malaysia, and where many companies have been implementing mandatory vaccination policies. Multinational companies with a Malaysian presence are now looking to roll out those policies in their Malaysian offices too. However, the law can be very different across jurisdictions, and employers will need to tread with caution and consider not just the legal but practical repercussions before making vaccinations mandatory for their employees.

In this article, I set out the legal position on this issue, and the key issues employers need to consider. I’ve also previously shared some of my views on this with The Malay Mail in their piece earlier this month — “Can Malaysian employers make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for their staff? Lawyers explain.”

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Case Update: Industrial Court finds retrenchment due to effects of COVID-19/MCO was unfair

In this Case Update series, I share summaries of recent Malaysian court decisions to explore the current approach taken by the courts when deciding on employment-related issues. You can find all the posts in the series by clicking here, including case updates on other legal areas by TheMalaysianLawyer co-founder Lee Shih.

The Industrial Court recently decided that the retrenchment of an employee, which the employer said was due to the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, was an unfair dismissal. This decision shows that, while the courts will uphold genuine retrenchments as an option available to employers to ensure the financial viability and survival of their businesses, employers cannot simply cite the pandemic as an excuse to retrench employees without proper justification.

The award in Joseph Lim Chien Shiuh v. DTTLT Sdn Bhd (Award No. 1052 of 2021) dated 19 May 2021 should serve as a cautionary tale for employers. I expect we will see many more employees successfully challenging terminations carried out in 2020 and 2021 by businesses claiming to have been affected by the various lockdowns or Movement Control Orders (MCOs) and related restrictions.

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Case Update: Court of Appeal sets out key legal principles for retrenchments

In this Case Update series, I share summaries of recent Malaysian court decisions to explore the current approach taken by the courts when deciding on employment-related issues. You can find all the posts in the series by clicking here, including case updates on other legal areas by TheMalaysianLawyer co-founder Lee Shih.

Retrenchment exercises have been a regular occurrence in the Malaysian industrial relations landscape for many years now. This looks set to continue deep into 2021, as employers respond to the challenges created by the on-going pandemic. Despite this prevalence, many employers often mishandle retrenchment exercises, with significant consequences.

The recent Court of Appeal (“the COA”) case of Ng Chang Seng v. Technip Geoproduction (M) Sdn Bhd & Anor [2021] 1 CLJ 365 usefully sets out some key legal and practical principles that all employers should consider when embarking on a retrenchment exercise. Among others, the judgment in the Ng Chang Seng case covered the following issues:

  1. What issues does the court consider when deciding whether the employer has proved a genuine redundancy?
  2. How can an employer justify not using Last-In First-Out (“LIFO”) for employee selection?
  3. Does an employer always have to retrench all foreign employees before retrenching Malaysian employees?
  4. Does the rehiring of some retrenched employees on a contract basis mean that there was no genuine redundancy?
  5. How much weight does the court give to non-compliance with the Code of Conduct for Industrial Harmony (“the Code of Conduct”)?

You can find all our previous posts on retrenchments by clicking on the tag here. Some of my earlier articles have been very popular and should prove useful:

  1. Retrenchments in Malaysia — some recent cases (29 May 2020).
  2. Case Update: Insufficient justification and improper handling of Voluntary Separation Scheme may give rise to unfair dismissal (20 March 2019).
  3. What you need to know about the law on retrenchment of employees (22 January 2016).

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