Employee Rights in Nigeria
In employment law, the employer-employee relationship usually affords the employee some rights and privileges. These rights are often encoded in the statutory laws regulating employment relationships as well as the employee’s contract of employment. This article highlights some important employee rights in Nigeria.
There exist today, different types of employment arrangements to which the rights and benefits afforded employees are dependent on the type of employment arrangement.
While these rights will be discussed in this article, some of the rights important to employees are, right to annual leave, right to sick leave, right to be given a contract of employment, right not to terminate an employee’s contract without notice.
Since the second half of the 19th century, laws have been put in place to ensure the protection of employees rights.1 The essence of these rights is to ensure a safe, healthy and conducive work environment as well as protect employees from undue exploitation by the employers.
What are the laws governing employee rights in Nigeria?
There are various laws regulating employment rights in Nigeria. Some of them include;
- The Labour Act 2004 – This is the principal legislation that governs the relationship between the employer and the employee.
- The Pensions Reform Act 2014 – It governs and regulates the administration of the uniform contributory pension scheme for both public and private sectors in Nigeria and also ensures that everybody who works in the public and private sectors has retirement benefits upon retirement.
- The Employee Compensation Act 2010 – It makes comprehensive provisions for payment of compensation to employees who suffer from occupational diseases or sustain injuries arising from accidents at the workplace or in the course of employment.
- The National Minimum Wage Act 2019 – It prescribes a national minimum wage for all employees and applies to employers with twenty-five or more employees.
Although, the Labour Act is Nigeria’s principal legislation governing employment relations, It applies to workers who are employed under a contract of manual labour or clerical work in the private and public sectors. In addition to these statutory laws, the rights of employees are also regulated by their contracts of employment.
Ascertaining the status of an employee
The Labour Act identifies two classes of employees. They are;
- Employees (‘workers’) who are employed under a contract of manual labour or clerical work in the private and public sector and
- Employees whose employment is regulated by a contract of employment.
It is necessary to ascertain or determine the employment status of any employee seeking to claim his rights, because the rights are only entitled to those legally recognised as employees. The status of an employee could be an employee on probation or a permanent employee.
An employee on probation is one whose skills, knowledge and expertise are tested over a short period of time to determine his suitability for the job before they are permanently employed.2 Most employers usually fix this probation time for a period of three to six months.
The rights of an employee on probation may be limited as opposed to a permanent employee because an employee on probation is on assessment for a short period of time. More so, probation periods usually last for six months or less, whereas some rights in the Labour Law Act apply to employees who have been in employment for a continuous period of twelve months.
A permanent employee on the other hand is an employee who has been confirmed as such. A permanent employee has numerous rights regulated by statutory laws and his contract of employment. However, the enjoyment of a permanent employee’s rights and privileges depends on the nature of his employment contract.
The nature of employment contracts differs and could be either full-time employment, part time employment, casual employment, independent contractor, trainee, etc. These employment types usually have different benefits and rights based on the contract of employment.
In order for an employee to claim his right, it is pertinent to ascertain the status of his employment as his rights are hinged on the status and nature of his employment arising from his contract of employment.
Employee rights in Nigeria
Some of these rights are:
- Contract of employment – A contract of employment means any agreement, whether oral or written, express or implied, whereby one person agrees to employ another as a worker and that other person agrees to serve the employer as a worker.3 Every employee has the right to be given a contract of employment by the employer, no later than three months after commencement of the employment.4
- Notice of termination – An employee has the right to be notified of his employer’s intention to terminate the employment contract.5
- Wages – Every employee is entitled to his wages being paid in legal tender and not otherwise when they become due as contractually agreed upon.6
- Sick leave – Every employee who is absent from work due to sickness is entitled to be paid his wages for up to twelve working days in a calendar year. The employee must, however, be certified by a medical practitioner.7
- Trade unions – Employees have the right to join any trade union.8
Right to a maternity Leave
Maternity leave is one of the components of maternity protection afforded women to ensure the preservation and protection of their jobs during their period of pregnancy and after delivery.
A woman who is pregnant has the right to take leave from work six weeks before her delivery date and six weeks after her delivery date.9 During this period of leave or absence, if she had been in her employment for a period of six months or more, she is entitled to not less than 50% of her wages.
Where a woman who is on maternity leave remains absent from work due to an illness which arose out of her pregnancy and is rendered unfit for work, she has a right not to be dismissed by her employer. In addition, a nursing mother is entitled to thirty-minute breaks in a day in order to nurse her child.
Paid Holiday/Annual Leave
The statutory provision entitles all employees who have been in continuous employment for twelve months to at least six working days holiday with full payment. An employee who is under sixteen years of age or an apprentice is entitled to at least twelve days.
Employees who are regulated by their employment contract will have the duration of their annual holiday clearly stated in the employment contract. It is unlawful for an employer to pay wages in lieu of an annual holiday.
Protection against wrongful dismissal
An employee’s employment contract may be terminated either by resignation or dismissal. Termination by resignation means that the employee has given up his statutory rights. When his employment is terminated by dismissal, the dismissal may either be lawful or wrongful. Such wrongful dismissal may be challenged as unfair.10
An employee is unfairly dismissed when his employment is terminated on terms contrary to his employment requirements. Unfair dismissal means terminating an employee’s contract in an unjustifiable manner.
Although an employer has the right to hire and fire, the reason for dismissal must be within the confine of the employee’s contract of employment otherwise the employer can be liable for unlawful dismissal.
There are some categories of people who are protected from unfair dismissal. Firstly, employers are prevented from terminating the employment of any female worker who is absent due to maternity leave, or who remains absent from work for a longer period as a result of illness which arose out of her pregnancy, thereby rendering her unfit to work.11 Secondly, employers are prevented from terminating the employment contract of any employee on grounds of his association or participation in a trade union.
In order to ensure fair and equal treatment of all employees in the work environment, their rights are protected by the law and their contract of employment. However, the classification of the employment type is of legal significance to the employee in claiming his rights and benefits.
This classification of employment should be adequately defined at the beginning of the employment relationship to ensure both the employer and the employee are aware of their rights, duties and obligations.
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1 Funmi Adewuni and Adebimpe Adenugba, The State of Workers Rights in Nigeria: An Examination of the Banking, Oil and Telecommunication Sectors (Freidch-Ebert-Stiftung 2010)
3 Section 91 Labour Act 2004 (L1 LFN 2004)
4 Section 7 Ibid (3)
5 Section 9 Ibid (3)
6 Section 1 Ibid (3)
7 Section 16 Ibid (3)
8 Section 9(6) Ibid (3)
9 Section 54 Ibid (3)
10 Halsbury’s Laws (5th edn, 2014) vol 41, para 723
11 Section 54 (4) Ibid (3)