The contract of employment (master servant relationship)[1] is a type of contract recognised under the law. Thus, the law allows parties; the employer and the employee to agree on terms and conditions which will guide their relationship.  To this extent, an employee can resign and an employer can terminate the employment of his employee at any time. However, this must be done in line with the contract of service; when this is done, the employment would be deemed to have been properly terminated.

The law is settled that an employer is entitled to dismiss his servant for good or bad reasons or for no reason at all; where a contract of employment has been properly terminated, intention or motive for doing so becomes totally irrelevant and an employer would not be required to give his reasons for terminating the employment.

Where an Employer asserts that an Employee was removed or dismissed for a specific misconduct, the dismissal cannot be justified in the absence of adequate opportunity offered to him to explain, justify or else defend the alleged misconduct[2]; it is for this reason that employers set up panels or committees to look into and determine an allegation of misconduct levelled against an employee, before taking disciplinary actions against an employee.

This article will consider the right of an employer to dismiss his employee for gross misconduct amounting to a crime without first resorting to criminal prosecution.

Gross misconduct has been identified as a conduct that is of a grave and weighty character as to undermine the confidence which should exist between an employee and employer; working against the deep interest of the employer amounts to gross misconduct entitling an employer to summarily dismiss the employee.[3]

The first thing to note is that in statutory employment as well as in private employment, the employer can dismiss his employee for all acts of gross misconduct and in all cases of gross misconduct.[4] ‘It is no longer the law that where an employee commits acts of gross misconduct against his employer which acts disclose criminal offences under any law, the employer has to wait for the outcome of the prosecution of the employee for such criminal offences before proceeding to discipline the employee under the contract of service or employment’[5]. Where dishonesty is established against the employee, he can be dismissed without reporting the matter to the police or even waiting for the employee to be prosecuted. It is sufficient that the employer can show serious breaches of its regulations which govern the employment of the employee, it need not concern itself with the criminal aspect of the act which amounts to a gross misconduct. ‘once he is satisfied that the servant has done something which is incompatible with the faithful discharge of his duty or has displayed conduct such that it would be injurious to the master’s business to retain him, the master may dismiss the servant’.[6]

The right of the employer to dismiss his employee for gross misconduct is an unfettered right, ‘conceded that some elements of gross misconduct may have the semblance of crimes or offences known to law but an employer, even on the face of a crime can still act under the contract of employment to dismiss without waiting for criminal proceedings to determine the guilt of the employee’[7]. However, this right must be exercised in accordance with the conditions of service stipulated in the contract of service.

An employer who seeks to dismiss his employee must give that employee a right to defend himself against the allegations levelled against him. Failure to afford the employee an opportunity to be heard amounts to an infringement of his right to fair hearing and could make the dismissal of such an employee improper.

In the case of a statutory employment, the employer also has a right to dismiss an employee, but that right must be exercised in accordance with the relevant rules and laws governing the employment of the statutory employee.

An aggrieved employer considers dismissal as an efficient tool for dealing with an employee’s gross misconduct because, ‘dismissal is punitive, and usually without any terminal benefits to the employee. The employee stands disgraced and held in ignominy’,[8] the employer is therefore saved the inconvenience of paying any remuneration or benefits to an unfaithful employee.

[1] The term master servant relationship is used to refer to the legal relationship between an Employer and his Employee; master and servant also refers to an employer and his employee.

[2] AVRE v. NIPOST (2014) LPELR-22629 (CA)

[3] EZE V. SPRING BANK. (2011) LPELR-2892(SC)


[5] Supra

[6] Supra