Wed, 24 Jul 2024


Ex-HR head awarded RM192,000 after hothead boss forced her resignation
Published on: Friday, June 07, 2024
By: FMT, K Parkaran
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Ex-HR head awarded RM192,000 after hothead boss forced her resignation
The Industrial Court awarded Nizatul Asmar Che Umar compensation of RM191,530.50 after finding she was wrongfully dismissed by food products supplier Petaling Jaya Dairy Sdn Bhd. (Facebook pic)
PETALING JAYA: The Industrial Court has awarded a former human resource head of a French-owned food products supplier RM191,530.50 in compensation after ruling that the company’s hotheaded ex-general manager forced her into resigning.

In an award dated May 29, court chairman D Paramalingam held that claimant Nizatul Asmar Che Umar was not given the opportunity to consider whether she wanted to leave her employment with Petaling Jaya Dairy Sdn Bhd, a company ultimately owned by French dairy giants BSA International.

“Instead, she was given an ultimatum – resign or be sacked without being paid the salary she was lawfully entitled to under her employment contract,” Paramalingam said in the award.

The court heard over a two-day trial in January that the claimant’s working relationship with Henry Ong, the company’s then general manager, had soured after she communicated to him the grievances of employees over his behaviour.

“The claimant had explained that due to the increase in employee resignations she could not turn a blind eye to the complaints and simply had to bring up the issue to arrest the problem.

“The manner he spoke to them, his volatile temper and unreasonable treatment of (employees) did not adhere to good industrial relations practices to ensure industrial harmony at the workplace,” Paramalingam said in his 40-page award.

However, whenever the claimant addressed the issue, Ong became “upset”, “confrontational”, “aloof” and “vindictive” towards her. He was also prone to “shouting at her, giving curt and rude replies at meetings and whenever the claimant approached him on work matters”.

Paramalingam said one instance of the “inhumane” treatment dished out by Ong on employees was reflected in the way he dealt with David Loh, the company’s business development manager.

Loh, whose father was terminally ill, had tendered his resignation and asked to be allowed a few days off to tend to him. Ong denied the request.

“Ong stipulated that Loh continue reporting to work until his last day of employment. Loh’s father passed away, but Ong insisted that (he) continue his handover work.”

Paramalingam also heard that when the claimant tried to handle Loh’s situation in a humane way, Ong shouted at her and accused her of being unduly lenient and failing to manage Loh’s exit from the company properly.

The claimant also testified that many ex-employees had during their exit interviews attributed their resignation to being unable to cope with Ong’s temper. As a result, the company began to attract a bad reputation in the marketplace, she said.

She also said she discussed the “alarmingly” high turnover of employees with other representatives of the company and its parent corporations, but nothing was done about it.

“When the claimant brought (the matter) to the attention of Ong, his only response was that the claimant and the human resource department were to be blamed, and changes were coming soon,” the award read.

Eventually on Nov 10, 2022, Ong called the claimant in for a meeting and told her to resign with immediate effect.

Despite her protestations, Ong insisted that she work until mid-December, adding that she will be paid until Feb 10, 2023, including her contractual 13th month salary. However, if she disagreed, she would be “easily replaced without any payments”.

The claimant reluctantly submitted her resignation letter the following day, but Ong asked her to resubmit it, telling her to change her last working day to accommodate the start date of her replacement.

He did the same on Nov 15, which saw the claimant submit her resignation letter for a third time.

“Having perused and analysed the three separate resignation letters submitted by the claimant, it is clear as day that Ong was in full control as to how the claimant should depart from the company,” said Paramalingam.

The court said notations and deletions Ong made on the three resignation letters “signified his primary and authoritative role in drafting the terms of the claimant’s resignation letters”.

On Nov 29, the claimant wrote to inform the company that she had been forced by Ong to resign.

Paramalingam said the acceptance of her resignation without addressing her complaint clearly signified that both the company and Ong “had no issues” with the claimant being forced out of her job.

The court also took the company to task for failing to call Ong as a witness, noting that the termination of his employment with the company on July 4, 2023, was “shrouded in absolute mystery”.

“When questioned as to why Ong’s employment as general manager was terminated, (the company’s witness, Cheah Siow Chuan, who replaced the claimant as head of human resources) chose to hide behind a non-disclosure agreement,” said Paramalingam.

“It would seem that the company itself was making sure that Ong did not testify before this court, for fear that it would damage their case,” he added.

Paramalingam said Cheah’s testimony was “circumspect” as she had been handpicked by Ong to replace the claimant.

He also said Cheah’s evidence was “insufficient” to rebut the claimant’s contentions since she had no personal knowledge of the incidents and events in question.

“The company, and certainly Ong, would be mistaken to assume that should Ong fail to appear in court to give evidence, the matter could be swept under the carpet under the pretext of a subpoenaed witness being unable to attend court,” said Paramalingam.

The claimant began her employment in the company in April 2021 and drew a monthly salary of RM17,255.

She was awarded 14 months’ back wages and one month’s compensation in lieu of reinstatement, totalling RM241,570.

However, the award was scaled down by 10% on account of post-dismissal earnings. It was reduced by another RM43,137 which the claimant received as salary in lieu of notice.

Peter Chanther Jayaraja appeared for the claimant, while Alwin Rajasurya and Kelly Yong Shu Xhuang appeared for the company.

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