Duties and obligations in labour law

Duties and obligations in labour law: The cardinal effect of a contract of service is that from the date of the commencement of the contract which is usually expressly stated in the letter of appointment given to the employee, the employee and the employer are bound by the terms and conditions of service consented to by both parties.

This, in effect creates rights and obligations between parties in line with both the express and implied terms of the contract.

The contents of a contract of employment which forms the basis of the rights, duties and obligations of the parties under the contract usually varies from one organization to another. But generally, there are certain elements which are common in most categories of employment. Some of these will be examined below.

Duties of an employee

  1. Duty of obedience
  2. Duty of care
  3. Duty of faithful service
  4. Duty of accountability

Duty of obedience – Duties and obligations in labour law

The main consideration furnished by an employee in a labour contract is the rendering of service, i.e. work, to the employer. It will therefore amount to failure of consideration if the employee refuses to obey lawful and reasonable order of his employer in line with the dictates of the terms of contract.

Thus, obedience to order is a critical duty of an employee because it is only by obeying such order that he (the employee) will render his services to the employer. It is therefore a fundamental duty of the employee to carry out his duties in obedience to the reasonable and lawful order of his employer.

This duty is so cardinal that breach of it can attract the penalty of summary dismissal. It is for this reason that the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the trial and Appellate court in Nwobosi V. A.C.B. Ltd,(1995) 6 NWLR (pt.404) 658

Facts of the case:
The plaintiff/appellant was in the employment of the respondent bank. He disobeyed the employer’s express instructions and order relating to the granting of loan and advances which resulted in his summary dismissal. It is now an undisputed and well established rule of law that an employee repudiates the contract of service if he willfully disobeys the lawful and reasonable orders of his employer.

The regular and consistent use of ‘lawful’ and ‘reasonable’ in this respect is deliberate because an employee is only bound to obey lawful and reasonable orders. An employee is not under the duty that is contrary to the provisions of the law or against public policy or even common law.

Also, an employee is not expected to obey any order that will predispose and make him susceptible to danger both his life and / or health. In addition, such order must fall within the contractual dutries of the employee taking into consideration the nature of the duties, and the time and place where these dutries are to be carried out.

Therefore it is not lawful and reasonable to order a high ranking employeebto do some manual or menial job is outside the description and content of his contractual responsibilities. It will be incongruous and laugable to, order lecturer to clear grass around the faculty building.

A minor or isolated case of disobedience may not immediately and automatically elicit a dismissal unless the act of disobedience is of a nature that strikes at the very root of the employment contract. That is to say, such disobedience that will justify a dismissal must amount to a repudiation of a fundamental term and condition of the employment contract. For instance, a person employed as a driver who willfully refuses an order to drive within the content of the terms of employment may be summarily dismissed. See the English case of Law V. London Chronicle Ltd (1959) 2 All E.R. 386

Duty of care

The employer is expected to exercise optimum diligence and care in the discharge of duties and also guarantee the protexction of the work environment. Thus, the employee should abhor performing his duties in a reckless and negligent manner.

Where the employee’s recklessness and neglgence results in damage to a third party and the employer is held vicariously liable, the employer is entitled to recover the damages which he has paid from the employee, on the account of the employee’s breach of his contractual duty of care.

See the case of Lister V. Romford Ice and Storage Co. Ltd (1957) A. C. 535. This duty extends to the handling of the employer’s property and equipment. The employee must exercise care and professionalism to avoid damage to the property of the employer which may occasion avoidable loss to the latter.

In other words, the employee is expected to discharge his contractual duties in a manner that promotes the interest and object of his employment.
Co-operation with the employer is very essential in this regard. Accordingly, the employee is obligated not to willfully obstruct the business of his employer.

Duty of faithful service

An employee must be strict and thorough in the performance of duty and must be steady in allegiance to the employer. This means that, he must serve his master with good faith and fidelity. Thus, an employee is not expected to use his position of employment or knowledge arising from such position in such a way that his personal interests conflicts with his duty to his employer.

Arising from this, the employee should not deliberately, knowingly and secretly set himself to do in his spare time, something which would inflict harm on his employer’s business; see the case of Hivac V. Park Royal Scientific Instrument Ltd (1946) 1 CH. 167
Accordingly, the employers interest must supersede, surpass, displace and override the interest of the employee. And the employee must seek and permanently protect such interest.

Duty of accountability – Duties and obligations in labour law

Accountability entails the responsibility of the employee to accomplish with integrity the defined and assigned tasks required by his/her job within a reasonable time in order to assist the organisation to fulfill its goals. It follows that should an employee not achieve accountability, one would consider that consequences or repercussions would ensue.

Accoubntability implies trust, self-motivation, and maturity. In fact, employees who are accountable, and who work together toward higher accountability in their workplace, make the business more efficient and productive overall.

As an employer, accountability may mean that an employee will:

  • Be on time and present for his/her full working hours/shift
  • Complete any tasks designated within deadline or reasonable timeframe.
  • Communicate any uncertainties about tasks, process or expectancies.
  • Consistently to honorably, trustworthy complete all aspects of his/her job

Work with others toward common goals for the business
Suffix it to say that, the key to accountability is to demonstrate each of the six elements above.

Duties and obligations of parties in labour law. Duties and obligations of parties in labour law. Duties and obligations of parties in labour law

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