Singapore High Court held employer not obliged to comply with its own employment policies: Kallivalap Praveen Nair v Glaxosmithkline Consumer Healthcare Pte Ltd [2022] SGHC 261

Interesting case: Kallivalap Praveen Nair v Glaxosmithkline Consumer Healthcare Pte Ltd [2022] SGHC 261

Ex-employee claimed that employer GSK breached its employment contract by failing to follow its own employment policies.

The Court said (in very brief terms):

– Contract’s express terms stipulates that it’s the employee who is supposed to comply with policies, not the employer.

– Implied term of mutual trust and confidence (ITMTC) is not yet clearly recognised as applicable in Singapore law.

– In any event, the ITMTC that the employee tried to assert cannot be implied by law. On the facts, it is also not implied in fact. The employee asserted an ITMTC holding that the employer must comply with all its employment policies. It is deemed too uncertain.

– The difficulties Kwek Mean Luck J seemed to have an issue with are that (at [54]:

>> Some of the internal policies may not be drafted clearly and are aspirational rather than mandatory [but this is a drafting and construction issue, just as the issue would arise if the same language is in the employment agreement itself].

>> It is not clear what constitutes policies rather than merely internal organisational communications e.g. townhall meetings [but with respect, this issue is to put the cart before the horse–the issue must first be whether policies have contractual effect which is binding on employers as much as employees before one considers on the facts, what constitutes policies].

>> A ruling that employers should be contractually held to their policies would have wider implications on all employers [yet, a ruling that employers should not be held to their policies would also have wider implications on all employers and employees].

The focus of the pleaded case and analysis was on the ITMTC – whether implied by law or in fact. However, I wonder if the analysis would be different if the term that is sought to be implied in fact (or by law) is not couched as an ITMTC but simply that the employer is contractually obliged to comply with its own policies or that both the employer and employee are mutually obliged to comply with the policies. The issue of what obligations arise under these policies is a matter of construction.

I would highlight that in certain decisions in other jurisdictions, employment policies are deemed contractually binding on the employer. See e.g. Romero v Farstad Shipping (Indian Pacific) Pty Ltd [2014] FCAFC 177

#litigation #singaporelaw #employmentlaw #disputes #contractlaw

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