(PRESS RELEASE) – In a judgment released today, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) dismissed an appeal against the finding of unfair dismissal and partly allowed the appeal against compensation in the matter of Chefette Restaurants Limited v Orlando Harris  CCJ 6 (AJ). Additionally, the CCJ ordered that 75% of the Respondent’s costs be paid by the Appellant, Chefette Restaurant.
Mr. Harris was dismissed on 27 January 2014 from his position as an assistant manager with Chefette after he was blamed for failing to follow cash handling procedures, resulting in the misappropriation of a Bds $40 cheque of another manager.
Prior to his dismissal, he was invited to three meetings with senior managers of the company. After the first meeting, he was suspended without pay pending further investigation, and was dismissed after he did not attend the third meeting.
The Employment Rights Tribunal (ERT), established by the Employment Rights Act of 2012, found that Mr. Harris had been unfairly dismissed, as the procedure detailed in the Act was not followed by Chefette. As a result, the ERT awarded Mr. Harris compensation in the sum of Bds $106,630.01, inclusive of 27 months compensation for lost wages. The Court of Appeal upheld the finding of unfair dismissal but deducted the sum that Mr. Harris had been given as vacation pay and payment in lieu of notice and adjusted the award to Bds $95,089.13.
In its appeal to the CCJ, Chefette’s main argument was that the Court of Appeal had erred in upholding the decision of the ERT that Mr. Harris had been unfairly dismissed. However, the CCJ found that Chefette had failed to follow the required legal procedure, which was designed to ensure due process, by not informing Mr. Harris of the accusation against him and giving him an opportunity to respond. Therefore, Chefette’s dismissal of Mr. Harris was unfair and that conclusion was the final decision on the question of unfairness. Additionally, the Court also considered the substantive fairness of the decision to dismiss Mr. Harris. Although purely academic, this will provide guidance on the interpretation of the Act for future cases.
The CCJ found that the compensation for an unfairly dismissed employee provides for a basic award, an award for benefits that the employee may have expected had it not been for the dismissal, and a punitive award if the dismissal was for certain reasons identified in the Act. The Court found that the basic award includes compensation for past services as well as for wages lost as a result of the dismissal, and as such there is no need for a separate award for lost wages. The punitive award was not applicable to this case and Mr. Harris had not provided any evidence of expected benefits, so the CCJ reduced the award of compensation to the amount of the basic award of Bds $31,274.78. In addition, the Court held that Mr Harris was entitled to retain the money paid to him as salary in lieu of notice and vacation pay which sum amounted to a further Bds $11,540.88.
As the appeal was allowed only in part, Chefette was ordered to pay 75% of Mr. Harris’ cost at both the CCJ and the Court of Appeal.
The panel hearing the case comprised CCJ President, the Honourable Mr Justice Adrian Saunders, and the Honourable Messrs. Justice Wit, Anderson, Barrow and Jamadar. The judgment was jointly delivered by Justices Anderson and Barrow. Mr Satcha Kissoon and Mr Benjamin Drakes appeared for Chefette Restaurant Limited and Mr Gregory Nicholls, Mr Kashka Mottley and Mr Demetrie Adams appeared for Mr Harris.
The full judgment of the Court and a judgment summary are available on the Court’s website at www.ccj.org.