PR officer sent packing
The Employment Rights Tribunal today began hearing a new “unfair dismissal” case in which Jasmine Valerie Payne is claiming that the state-run Barbados Vocational Training Board (BVTB) unjustly fired her in 2013 as its fixed-term contracted Public Relations and Marketing Officer.
But the statutory board, through its attorney Vincent Watson, told the Tribunal, chaired by Ryan Omari Drakes, that Payne was fairly terminated because she lied about her qualifications.
Watson told the panel that also included Dr Hartley Richards and Frederick Forde, that Payne had claimed to possess a degree in political science and history, but it turned out she did not.
He said she was found to be the holder of only a certificate in public relations and marketing and because of “this dishonesty”, her contract was not renewed.
Watson told the Tribunal that there were several other grounds, but that her “misrepresentation” of her qualifications and her conduct were the main reasons.
The legal counsel also claimed that Payne did not follow the correct procedure as outlined in the Employment Rights Act, in making her claim for unfair dismissal.
“This Tribunal is being asked to determine whether a claimant can bypass the disciplinary procedure identified in the Employment Rights Act to the effect that a claimant must inform the employer in writing – where she wishes to appeal a dismissal – and follow the established disciplinary procedure of the work place, before a claim can be made and or determined by this Tribunal,” submitted the state enterprise’s attorney.
“It is the contention of the respondent [BVTB] that the claimant is bound by the procedure set out in the Act, and that her failure to follow this procedure must render her claim here premature.”
Watson reminded the Tribunal that the employer must write explaining the reasons for the dismissal and the employee must respond in writing indicating the desire to appeal. The Act also provides that where the matter is not settled internally, the worker or his or her trade union may refer the dispute to the Chief Labour Officer for conciliation.
“We are submitting that this procedure, which is law, identifies the steps which an employer and an employee must follow in circumstances of a dismissal before the dismissal can be referred to the Chief Labour Officer and ultimately the Tribunal,” he insisted.
His contention was that the BVTB followed procedure in terminating Payne’s services and that she failed to adhere to, or initiate the appeal process according to law.
However, Payne’s attorney Tricia Watson disagreed, stating that the law did not mandate a worker to initiate an appeal before a dismissal could be referred to the Labour Department and or the Tribunal. She accused the statutory board’s management of failing to follow the law when it did not list the “principled reasons” for firing her client.
Payne’s lawyer also argued that the board failed to inform her client of any allegations leading to her dismissal.
The claimant’s attorney submitted that the overarching question before the Tribunal was whether her client’s right not to be terminated was infringed.
Payne was the only witness called to testify this afternoon, spending 90 minutes on the stand. Under examination by her attorney, she denied lying about her qualifications and explained that she had told the administration that she had a certificate in public relations and had studied history and political science at university, but had left in the third year. She said she was not keen on telling the management why she had not completed her course of study.
The claimant also testified that she had told the board she had 20 years experience and had outlined how her skills set and experience aligned with the job requirements.
The witness also denied telling the board she had a diploma or degree in communications and public relations.
“I never said I had a degree at all,” insisted Payne.
She said she had done outstanding work, which had been commended by her superiors, including a written commendation from the board.
In fact, Payne said she was never informed, or aware of any disciplinary action or procedures against her for any of the projects on which she had worked.
The hearing was adjourned until Friday at 2 p.m. at the Warrens Office Complex, St Michael.