… terminated employees allege that the company violated the labour Act and its service rules

Employment: Bhutan Duty Free Ltd (BDFL) terminated three employees from its branch office in Paro in September and November without  prior termination notice, it is claimed in an anonymous letter written to the Anti-Corruption Commission.

While two female sales executives were terminated on September 9 for travelling to Nepal on September 1 without taking leave, another male sales executive was asked to resign on November 4 for writing an e-mail to the CEO to reconsider his transfer to Phuentsholing.

The Deputy General Manager (DGM) of the company allegedly caused the termination of the two female sales executives to create a vacancy for her cousin on standby. It is alleged that the DGM’s cousin had already joined the office from September 1 when the two sales executives rejoined the office after three days of leave.

The two expelled sales executives also accused BDFL of contravening the Labour and Employment Act by terminating without a prior termination notice. Section 72 of the Act states that either party should give the other party a notice of seven days before termination.

“They didn’t even issue us a prior notice or a warning. The CEO in a meeting with co-workers on September 9 told us that we were fired,” one of the ex-employees said.

The BDFL CEO, who wished not be named, said that the two employees on probation were terminated because of serious misconduct that involved flying to Nepal without applying for leave.

The CEO also alleged the two employees of other misconducts like non-issuing of bills and overcharging customers, and selling private goods from the duty free shop, allegations that both the former employees refuted.

The CEO also said that the employees have barely worked for two months and earned a casual leave of less than two days though they are entitled to 10 days casual leave as per the BDFL service manual. He also said that since the purpose of keeping employees on probation is to test their attitude, the management has the prerogative to either regularise their services or not to, depending on the suitability of the candidates.

The two ex-employees also claimed of being terminated despite verbal permission to take leave from the Paro branch in-charge. But in a letter, the in-charge wrote seven days after the termination of the two employees on September 16, the in-charge declined giving the verbal leave stating she had instead asked them to inform the CEO.

The company on November 4 asked another male sales executive in Paro to either resign or face termination for writing an e-mail to the CEO to reconsider his transfer since the former was posted to Paro only four months back.

To be transferred on short notice, he wrote, was unfair. He also wrote that the company treats its rich and poor employees differently.

As a result, the CEO summoned the sales executive to Thimphu to explain the contents of the letter. The CEO then asked the employee to either resign or face termination.

When the employee went with an apology letter the next day, the CEO told him that another standby candidate had already replaced him.

“I had to resign because I had no other option since it was better to resign than be terminated, which would tarnish my record forever,” the ex-employee said.

When the male sales executive submitted his resignation on November 9, the standby candidate who did not even meet the cut off point of 65 percent was appointed as the replacement on November 7.

BDFL stated that the male sales executive was terminated and replaced for accusing and then failing to give a satisfactory explanation for alleging that the management had ruined his life and for practising discrimination.

“Therefore, he was asked to submit resignation or face termination as such behaviour and attitude would have caused damage to the credibility of the company,” the CEO said, adding that BDFL would continue to transfer employees as frequently as possible in the interest of the company.

As per section 87 of the labour Act, an employer may terminate an employee without notice or payment if the employee has been guilty of serious misconduct which includes fraud, theft, and involvement in serious crimes, habitual irregular attendance and sabotage, among others. The employer should also first take all reasonable steps to ascertain if the employee’s conduct amounts to serious misconduct.

The ex-employees also claimed of not being given an opportunity to defend themselves before the termination.

The DGM also allegedly recruited her cousin as a sales executive in Paro on September 1 by tampering with documents after she joined BDFL in July. The summative score sheet of an interview on June 17 and 18 for the post of sales executives showed that though the 15th ranked candidate with a score of 66.50 percent was already employed, on July 1, she was reflected as a standby. However, the DGM’s cousin placed in the 16th position with 65.50 percent was reflected as selected.

The DGM is alleged to have mistakenly typed her cousin as selected and the applicant before her as standby in the score sheet while tampering the documents. If the documents weren’t tampered with, the complainants questioned why her cousin wasn’t employed in July though she was remarked as selected.

The recruitment of the four standby applicants as replacements in September and November also contravened section 2.6.9 of chapter two of the service manual which states that standby applicants cannot be employed 30 days after the date of interview.

All these standby applicants were recruited 60-120 days after the date of interview. The CEO however said these standby candidates were recruited since its board approved for maintenance of standby candidates for the sales executive posts and other positions for six months to meet its immediate human resource requirements.

The candidate employed on November 7 with a score of 64.75 percent was also recruited despite not meeting the cut off point of 65 percent on the summative score sheet. The minutes of the human resource committee meeting on June 17 stated that the candidates failing to secure 65 percent would not be considered for employment.

BDFL said that the DGM had no hand in termination of these employees or had tampered documents. As per its response, one sales executive was appointed in September, after another rejected an appointment. The other was recruited to replace trained sales executives bound for Phuentsholing.

When it comes to the discrepancy in the ranking of the DGM’s cousin and the employee before her, the CEO stated that he committed an error in the remark column wherein the candidate ranked 15 was marked as standby and the candidate ranked 16 was marked as selected.  He said that it was corrected by employing the candidate ranked 15 and not the DGM’s cousin.

It also clarified that the DGM’s cousin was recruited through the board meeting on August 6. The DGM’s cousin and two other sales executives who joined in early September were not intended as replacements for the terminated employees.

The candidate who scored 64.75 percent was recruited after rounding off the score, the CEO said.

The letter also alleged that the DGM was recruited though she didn’t fulfil the terms of reference that states an applicant should have a minimum of 65 percent in the degree of the relevant field of study with not less than 65 percent in classes X and XII. The DGM had only 60 percent in her degree and just 55 in class XII and 50 in X.

BDFL stated that the DGM was recruited based on the outcome of the interview board conducted. On the alleged verbal assault and harassment, the CEO said that informing of the consequences of non-performance to employees on probation should not be construed as verbal assault.

Tempa Wangdi