The simple concept of contract of employment is that the employment is governed by agreed terms and conditions upon which the relationship of master and servant or employer and employee exists. The contract is therefore the bedrock upon which the employment relationship rests. As much as an employee requires some assurance of job security, employment law in Nigeria does not generally impose an unwilling employer on an employee and vice versa. Consequently, the time-honored principle of laissez-faire allows private entities to freely determine the terms which shall guide their contractual relations. An employer is free to employ or hire, as well, free to fire or sack an employee, provided the terms and conditions stipulated in the contract of employment are complied with. Our legal system has however continued to witness increased cases of complaints by employees as to the unlawful manner of their disengagement from their employer. Most of these complaints have moved beyond reliance on the contract of employment and resorted to reliance on international best practices, unfavourable labour practices, and other concepts outside the signed contract. This article seeks to examine closely, albeit causally, the current legal regime on job security vis-à-vis the power of the employer to fire at will, without reason. This paper cautions that ex abundanti cautela over compliance with extant judicial position would reduce the anticipated contingencies in not giving the reason for termination.

Nature of Employment Contract

Employment Law in Nigeria has evolved over the years, from a jurisprudence that gives the employer unfettered powers to “hire and fire at will, with reason or without reason at all” to a now more humane process where the employer is enjoined to be cautious to ensure that his whims and caprices are guided by international best practice in labor relations.1 It is generally agreed by both the Bar and the Bench that apart from employment savoured with statutory flavour, no court should impose an unwilling employee on an unwilling employer and vice versa. Consequently, the ability of an employee to freely walk out of the employment relationship with an employer and seek “greener” pastures elsewhere is directly proportional to the employer’s rights to disengage an employee where the best interest of the business dictates.


Read More

[1] Section 254 (C) (1) (f) of the constitution as amended enjoins the National Industrial Court to pronounce unfair labour practices and international best practices in employment and labour relations.