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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Case Update: Unfair dismissal due to poor handling of mutual separation agreement

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 COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in constant pressure on employers across almost all industries. There have been widespread measures to manage the financial fallout from the global effects of the pandemic, including salary reductions, employee redesignations, retrenchments, and separation schemes.

It has become a common practice for employers to use Mutual Separation Agreements (MSAs) — which also go by various other names such as “settlement agreements”, “separation agreements”, and “termination agreements” — to bypass or shortcut the usual termination processes. Many employers, as well as employees, view MSAs as a “cleaner” way of ending the employment relationship — instead of feeling like s/he has been “sacked”, the employee can be made to feel that the exit is on his/her terms, and employers prefer the certainty of clearly documented and mutually-agreed terms.

However, it is not uncommon for MSA exits to be improperly handled, resulting in a successful unfair/constructive dismissal claim by an employee, and a high financial cost to the employer. Some of my earlier articles would also be relevant for readers interested in this topic:

  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. Case Update: Can an employee bring an unfair dismissal claim after accepting a severance payment? (16 November 2017).
  4. What you need to know about the law on retrenchment of employees (22 January 2016).
  5. Handling employee dismissals properly under Malaysian law (13 January 2016).

In this article, we will review the Industrial Court case of Thanasegaran C Munusamy v. Vale Malaysia Minerals Sdn Bhd (Award No. 1647 of 2020), where the employee, Thanasegaran (the Employee) had signed an MSA, but then lodged an unfair dismissal claim against the employer, Vale Malaysia (the Company).

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Case Update: Insufficient justification and improper handling of Voluntary Separation Scheme may give rise to unfair dismissal

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.

Retrenchments are an ever-present issue in the Malaysian industrial relations landscape. The Malaysian Employers Federation has forecast that 30,000 employees will be laid-off this year. The proper handling of retrenchments is a constant challenge for employers, and disputes often arise. The Ministry of Human Resources recently announced that terminations due to retrenchment were the most common reason for unfair dismissal cases received by the Industrial Relations Department over the past 10 years, accounting for 30% of all cases.

Many employers make the mistake of assuming that implementing a retrenchment exercise is a straightforward way of getting rid of unwanted employees, or downsizing the workforce to cut costs. I’ve written about some of the legal issues related to retrenchment in two earlier articles:

  1. In “What you need to know about the law on retrenchment of employees”, I summarised the key Malaysian legal principles in relation to retrenchments. Essentially, it is the prerogative of the management to decide on the reorganisation of its business, and the courts will not intervene unless it is shown that the employer’s decision was not in good faith.
  2. In an earlier article in this Case Update series — “Case Update: Relevant issues when an employer uses financial difficulties as a reason for retrenchment” — I wrote about a case where the Industrial Court held that an employer relying on financial difficulties to justify retrenchment had to prove it was experiencing financial difficulties, and to show the financial savings it made through the retrenchment.

In the recent case of Suseela Devi Balakrishnan v. Inti International College Kuala Lumpur Sdn Bhd (Award No. 343 of 2019), the Industrial Court considered a scenario where the employment relationship ended based on a voluntary separation scheme (“VSS”) arising from a redundancy scenario, and the employee subsequently claimed that she was dismissed without just cause and excuse.

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Case Update: Is a clause in an employee handbook effective if an employee claims not to have read it?

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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.

Identifying the terms and conditions that apply to an employment relationship is often not as straightforward as reading through an employment contract.

It is the norm, particularly in large employer organisations which span multiple jurisdictions, for these terms and conditions to be set out in several documents. As a minimum, many employers would have an offer letter, the main employment contract, and an employee handbook. These are then supplemented by further individual policies, such as those in relation to personal data, BYOD, IT, benefits, discipline, workplace conduct, grievance procedures — the list is close to endless. The difficulty in determining which terms apply is further complicated when these documents (or parts of some of these documents) are amended or updated over the years.

Problems arise when an employer seeks to apply or enforce some of the terms set out in one of those documents, and the employee claims to not be aware of it — or contends that the document does not apply. The Industrial Court recently considered one such case in Ho Seng Fatt v. Strateq System Sdn Bhd (Award No. 279 of 2018).

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Case Update: Factors considered by the Industrial Court in determining the identity of the employer in a multi-jurisdictional employment relationship

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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.

In this era of the multinational corporation, it is common for employees to be carrying out most (or even all) of their work in one jurisdiction, while technically being employed by an employer entity in another jurisdiction. This could either be because the employer does not have a local entity, or because the employee was initially employed by an entity in one jurisdiction but was subsequently assigned to a post in another jurisdiction, or for a host of other commercial reasons.

We therefore see increasingly complicated employment relationships — the core employment contract being supplemented by assignments, secondments, or some other similar arrangements both formal or otherwise — which in time can lead to confusion over who the actual employer entity is, and more importantly, which jurisdiction the employer is in. Some of these arrangements can get even more convoluted with the introduction of other structures such as third party employment or payroll service providers or local host entities.

Identifying the correct employer entity becomes important when an employee seeks recourse at the Industrial Court. It is not as straightforward as determining which entity pays the employee’s salary, or owns the office the employee spends most of his time in. Once it is determined that the employer entity is in another jurisdiction, can the Industrial Court hear the matter?

The relevant factors were recently considered by the Industrial Court in two cases — Lars Kruse Thomsen v. Hot-Can Sdn Bhd (Award No. 1629 of 2017), and John Brian Chesson v. Baker Hughes (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd (Award No. 119 of 2018).

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Case Update: What can an employer do upon discovering that an employee lied in a job application?

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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 hiring process can often be tricky for employers. In the Malaysian job market, it is common for employers to receive hundreds of applications for certain vacancies. Employers then have to comb through these applications, shortlist candidates to be interviewed, and make a hiring decision based on fairly limited information.

To reduce the time spent on this process, many employers do not conduct thorough background checks on job applicants. The experience and employment history stated in the applications are often assumed to be accurate, with some allowance given for an expected reasonable degree of exaggeration.

What is the recourse for an employer who, soon after hiring an individual, realises that the employee had lied in his job application? Does this false information constitute just cause for an employment termination, or will the dismissal enable the employee to bring a successful unfair dismissal claim?

The Industrial Court considered these issues in two recent awards — Khoo Kim Loang v. Shock Media Studio Sdn Bhd (Award No. 51 of 2018) on 4 January 2018, and Khoo Kim Loang v. Kim Siah Electric Co Sdn Bhd (Award No. 137 of 2018) on 12 January 2018 — interestingly both involving the same Employee.

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