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Covid-19 is no excuse to fire workers unfairly

By Elias Mokua | Jun 17th 2020 | 3 min read

Bosses, go easy on the people recommended to you for a sack. Yes, the Covid-19 pandemic is real because we know that human beings in thousands have lost their lives. The economy in many countries is in bad shape.

Some institutions and organisations are closing doors, rendering many employees jobless, others are downsizing, rebasing or even relocating. The hospitality industry, for example, has been forced to lay off hundreds of staff as the lockdown continues. 

Even before Covid-19, unemployment in Kenya has been high. Rather than cushion job seekers, some of us are throwing out the ‘excesses’ at work. The pandemic has now provided a season for revenge, ethnic conniving, oppression of the weak and shoving away employees who have no godfathers and godmothers.

Well, if there is no money to pay a salary, as an employer you have little chance to keep someone in office. However, there are some key justice considerations that employers would be encouraged not to ignore if they have to lay off staff.

When resources become scarce, demand rises. If jobs are becoming less because of Covid-19, every employee will work harder to keep their job. But, as the long knife (laying off) moves closer, employees will set themselves up for stiff competition to remain at work. Tragedies start here.

The evil side of human nature shows up in the face of existential threats. In such moments, survival instincts are dangerous. People set up colleagues to fail in their duties so as to appear good and retain their jobs at the expense of those they have set up. Others simply play dirty games so they can increase their own relevance and visibility at work.

Justice – specifically contributive justice – is a key guiding principle in considering who to sack. People can always manipulate evaluation systems. The ‘Boss’ should be alert that not every file presented for dismissal, with all the justifications provided, is in good faith. Contributive justice calls for reward for those who do their bit at work. St Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says that a person who does not work should not eat.

Job loss could well mean a life lost. Elsewhere in the world, at least in the US, reports indicated that over 25 million jobs have been lost to-date following the coronavirus spread. In Kenya, available media data shows people are losing jobs in their thousands.

Among the sectors that the government has listed as most affected in job, losses are tourism, manufacturing, transport, wholesale and retail trade, agriculture and diaspora employment.

In addition, thousands of people who work in learning institutions, directly and indirectly, struggling to make ends meet, use unorthodox ways to keep themselves relevant until learning resumes.

Moreover, some sectors like the banking industry are not only affected by Covid-19, but also by technological advancement. Automation and robotic use in providing customer services are rendering hundreds of staff redundant. In the process of downsizing, some staff get dismissed quite unfairly.

The Boss must not injure the reputation and livelihood of staff in good standing as a result of survival fights. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection sent out a list of actions to be considered by employers in the event of staff dismissal during this Covid-19 period.

Leave days

Rather than dismiss an employee, the ministry recommends that workers and employers should engage in discussions on the possible temporary review of salary and wages.

Furthermore, the ministry advises that if need be, annual leave and unpaid leave can be put into consideration as a stop-gap measure or send all staff with outstanding leave days on leave.

In this context, we have the choice to put on hold, rather than sack people with no chance of re-hiring them, as often happens.

However, incidents of unjustified dismissals and work harassment are on the rise. As a result, crime rates are spiraling. Beyond domestic violence that has been well highlighted in the media, physical assaults in urban and rural areas are putting at risk people perceived to have more resources.

Some unscrupulous supervisors are 'kneeling on the neck' of staff they don’t like so they can fire them or push them to resign. It is a big injustice to use Covid-19 as a pretext to dismiss people without grounded reasoning. Harassing people is not a sign of great leadership. Supporting them is.


Dr Mokua lectures on media and communications studies

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