It’s not easy losing your job. It’s not a good time to lose your job. It’s even worse when you lose your job wrongfully. Of course the law is supposed to protect you from that. Your human rights entitle you to dignity, fair treatment and access to justice. Your labor rights entitle you to reasonable notice of termination, a fair appeal process and protection from vindictive line managers.
What does that mean in practical terms and what actually happens when you are wrongfully fired? Do you put your life on hold and pursue your rights with all the determination of a tick on a dog? Or do you forge ahead with your career believing success will give you the power and opportunity to confront the key issues?
I think a lot of people might pursue some sort of a middle course. Building careers and pursuing their rights. Undoubtedly available resources would have a strong impact on project management and implementation. How would you allocate priorities? Evaluate risk? Meet your milestones in the face of funding gaps, corruption and bureaucratic hurdles?
Consider the options: A – the tick on a dog position. Reduce personal expenses to the barest minimum. Cut off all dependents. Read night and day for a month or two till you know Nigerian Labor Law better than the dudes that wrote it. File your matter in the competent court. Prepare to be in the legal system for the next 10 years minimum.
During those 10 years every naira and kobo you make will go into servicing this case. Every spare moment you have will be devoted to this matter. You will speak to people who will speak to people who will speak to the people you want to speak to. You will network obsessively and persistently lobby everyone on your expanding contact list. Opposing counsel certainly is doing just that too.
There will be innumerable delays and insufferable frustration from the bench, from opposing counsel and from the gate man at the High Court unless palms get greased. If your action is against a big rich organization especially a foreign one they’ll try to outspend and outlast you. Even veteran Nigerian politicians, Masters of the Game, hesitate to revisit the halls of our judiciary.
B – forge ahead with your career. Review and update your resume, post to job sites, tell friends and family you’re looking for a new job, read the classifieds, write cover letters, and go for interviews. If that doesn’t yield results in a few months, go get another degree, acquire new skills and build on your existing competencies.
While you’re looking for a job you may lose your house, your spouse, your health insurance and your savings so be very frugal. It’s unlikely that you will have the funding to pursue a case against your former employers at this time. You could talk to a No Win No Fee lawyer but you’ll probably have to talk to several before you get one good enough to represent you.
Then again if you are lucky you’ll get a job real quick and maybe even one with more responsibility and remuneration. If the gods have truly smiled on you it will be a located in a sunny cosmopolitan city outside Nigeria. You can now choose whether to service your labor dispute with your shiny new salary. You may need to appear in court every few months involving international travel and hotel bills.
Wherever you are employed you will need to consider how your new employer feels about you pursuing a labor dispute. Whatever the circumstances of your case big organizations are more interested in protecting themselves from legal liability than in protecting labor rights even if they are in the business of international human rights and development.
A legal dispute with your past employer could affect your future employability or present employer. Employers could see you as a ‘trouble maker’ or the opposite of a team player. You may need to mitigate a strong remedial strategy to reassure them. Your past employer could also black list you in your industry or just give you a bad reference.
C – Take you career into new directions. Review and adjust your career goals, assert your independence, buckle down and start a consultancy, a small business or an enterprise. Put as much persistence, discipline and commitment into it as you would into options A and B above. In 12 months you could build start seeing a steady income.
Of course setting up a business in Nigeria gets harder and harder everyday. Your 12 months business plan will come up against the sort of delays and frustrations that could well see your implementation period stretch to 36 months or more. I recall a businessman telling me how his project came in 5 years and NGN60million over budget. So you’ll have to work that into the plan.
Network with businessmen and capitalists, bankers and stoke brokers, investors and merchants, entrepreneurs and traders, innovators and opinion leaders. You will meet a conman or two, the tax man, and your own personal bogeyman. Success, which is what you are aiming for after all, attracts diverse personalities. Learn to deal with all sorts.
You will have to scale back your expenses till you start turning a profit and you will work 120 hours a week. And in the beginning you won’t have any time to devote to legal problems with your former employer. Except when the bills are due and you’re struggling to pay them when they shall be remembered with all the venom of a puff adder. Manage your money carefully.
You’re greatest challenge in Nigeria will be venture capital. And human resources. And corruption. Maybe not even in that order. As a woman you will find it even more challenging. The IFC’s World Bank Report on Women, Business and the Law shows that women in Nigeria lack access to credit, lack protection in the workplace and lack incentives to work outside the home like childcare and tax breaks.
Despite these challenges Nigeria keeps on popping up as an emerging market to watch. The country is awash with high risk, high ROI opportunities. Many of them are in the energy, construction, telecommunications, banking and food sectors but there are also numerous underexploited opportunities in garments, education and training, professional services and retail marketing.
Foreign investors have an advantage because they come in with cheap venture funds. At least they’re cheap compared to cost of funds locally. Look for a foreign investor who can bring in cheap funds or an angel investor willing to buy equity. The cost of starting a business in Nigeria is high, you will need to budget generously for startup costs and restrict your operating costs.
It will even be a challenge to keep faith with your dream but you know that with drive, persistence and good providence you will achieve your personal and professional goals. The question is will you be able to give enough focus, time and resources to a long arduous legal dispute with your more heavily resourced and more powerful former employer?
Each of the above scenarios carries with it considerable risk and considerable promise of success too. Each strategy requires the same amount of passion, commitment and diligence to bring about that success. You could settle for a middling job that doesn’t require more than 5% of your brain power with employers that don’t care about labor disputes and pursue legal matters in your spare time.
I’ve not talked of the possibility that you could decide not to pursue the labor dispute at all. People and organizations must be held accountable and that is what the legal system is for. I’ve worked in the organized citizen sector for over 15 years supporting laws and policies against corruption, impunity and the Great Corporate Menace. We need to start holding people accountable to the standards we’ve set.
You won’t get your old job back but that’s not the point, you may not even want your old job back. If you remember you started complaining from the day you resumed. There may not even be any large settlement worth the effort of the years you’ll put into it but a judgment in your favor would show employers there are consequences for injustice and inhibit a recurrence.
A judgment against you could just leave you with a stack of legal bills and more bitterness. It’s a sad but true cliché that the law isn’t about the truth anymore, it’s about what you can prove and counsel for both sides increasingly rely on extreme and ethically questionable approaches to discredit evidence, witnesses and plaintiffs and manipulate legal outcomes. There could be a lot of bitterness at the end.
It’s up to you the individual to decide whether this is a battle worth fighting and what is the best strategy for YOU. There is no right or wrong choice but it must be an informed choice. A lot of lawyers don’t lay out the risks clearly or they underestimate the time and resources a labor dispute can require. They maybe more interested in getting you committed immediately and collecting a fat retainer.
It’s your right to get a second and a third opinion if that will make you feel more comfortable about the choice you make. It’s your right to have as much information as you need to make that choice. You wouldn’t choose invasive surgery based on the recommendation of one doctor so why would you choose an equally invasive legal procedure without asking around and weighing your options?
One way that we are making that choice a little bit easier for women to make at Agams & Associates is by promoting a Women’s Legal Defense Trust Fund to support eligible women with legal expenses in cases that could have broad impact on public policy and women’s rights. Because it’s not just about you losing a job, it’s about changing the world for everyone. Right?