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Banker who was sacked ‘by computer system’ awarded Sh 6.5 million

BUSINESS
By Kamau Muthoni | July 28th 2021

The Labour Court in Nairobi has ordered Absa to pay a former senior manager Naomi Connie Sh6.5 million for unfairly sacking her.

In a suit that put into question the lender’s performance management system, Connie, who worked as the head of agent banking was sacked over non-performance despite her superiors consistently rating her performance highly.

Connie worked with the lender for 26 years. She rose through the ranks from a clerk to a position similar to the bank’s deputy director.

In a classic case of being fired by a computer, the system rated her as a poor performer for two years and which marked the end of her career with Absa’s predecessor Barclays Bank on March 9, 2017.

The judge said it was strange for a top performer to come tumbling down fast to a position similar to a person on probation. Justice James Rika noted that it was not her own doing but a system that seemed to have gone awry.  He however noted that her termination process was largely fair. 

“She had worked for 26 years. She was consistently rated highly, except for the last two years, when something seems to have gone awry with the respondent’s performance management system...

“It is illogical that an employee with 26 creditable years of service, would suddenly become a consistent under performer, groping her way around like an employee who was freshly on probation,” the judge ruled.

He added: “An objective performance management system would first establish that indeed underperformance has taken place, and second, seek to unravel why its long-serving employee has suddenly turned into an underperformer, and lastly seek to rectify the work environment that has probably triggered under performance.”

Absa’s system required employees be assessed mid-year and end-year.

Targets were arrived at between the employee and the line manager.

There were six levels of ratings, the highest being outstanding, the lowest being underperformance.

Connie told the court that by the time she was being fired, her team had delivered 83 percent of her overall target yet in 2015 and 2016, and the system ruled that she was underperforming.

Internal appeal

The bank, in its reply, argued that she was the author of her fate. According to the bank, she was issued with a warning and attended a hearing on her performance. It asserted that she also failed to exhaust internal appeal process.

Justice Rika in his verdict noted that Connie had risen from a junior staff, employed in 1991 to close to the apogee through decades of service.

Then, she came tumbling down, faster than she had ascended. He said there ought to be justification on why a person who had worked well for 26 years suddenly underperformed.

“Historically, the petitioner was a top performer, so what led to her becoming a bottom performer, in the last two years?

“The respondent bank should have been concerned that after investing in the petitioner, and lifting her to the top in 24 years, she should have been allowed to drift so drastically, in the last two years, resulting in the forcible end to her banking career, in 2017.” the judge said.

 

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