An employee was dismissed for misconduct involving forgery of documents. He made a claim for wrongful dismissal on various grounds including an allegation that the employer had concluded that there was misconduct before “due inquiry” into the allegations.
While the employee did not succeed on his claim for wrongful dismissal, the court was minded to draw a distinction between “inquiry” and “due inquiry”.
The Judge noted that the phrase “due inquiry” means something more than just the making of inquiries and the conduct of an investigation. Otherwise the word “inquiry” alone would suffice.
In the written decision published this year, the Judge opined that the phrase “due inquiry” suggests some sort of process in which the employee concerned is informed about the allegation(s) and the evidence against him so that he has an opportunity to defend himself by presenting his position, with or without other evidence. In coming to this view, the Judge found the guide on MOM’s website that the employee concerned should have the opportunity to present his case to be a useful one. The opportunity to present one’s case accords with notions of justice and fairness especially since serious consequences may follow.
In order for an employee to be given an opportunity to present his case effectively, he must first be informed clearly what the case against him is. While “due inquiry” does not mandate any formal procedure to be undertaken, the more the informality the greater the danger that “due inquiry” was not undertaken.
Employment contracts typically provide employers with the option to either terminate an employee’s employment for cause (say for misconduct) or with notice. If the employer elects to terminate for cause, it should be mindful to ensure that “due inquiry” is conducted into the allegation against the employee. Although on the facts of this case the employer was only ordered to pay for seven days’ worth of salary (namely the sum of S$5,512.98) that was as the facts suggested that even if the employer had conducted a due inquiry the process may not take more than seven days to complete. This does not mean that in every case the court will simply order seven days’ worth of salary as compensation for failure to conduct due inquiry. Where no formal process is undertaken, the courts may be less sympathetic to the employer as the courts have to balance the practicality of the employer’s business operations with the employee’s right to be protected from summary dismissal without being heard.