Former manager awarded over RM800,000 by Industrial Court for unfair dismissal by MDEC

Jerry Choong
·3-min read
In the case document sighted by Malay Mail the claimant Thomas Kuruvilla, who worked at MDEC from September 2007 to May 2018, was awarded approximately RM 810,628, to be paid within 30 days of the award date. — Reuters pic
In the case document sighted by Malay Mail the claimant Thomas Kuruvilla, who worked at MDEC from September 2007 to May 2018, was awarded approximately RM 810,628, to be paid within 30 days of the award date. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 5 — A former manager for the government agency Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) was awarded over RM800,000 yesterday after the Industrial Court found the company guilty of unfair dismissal, after nearly two years of court proceedings.

In the case document sighted by Malay Mail the claimant Thomas Kuruvilla, who worked at MDEC from September 2007 to May 2018, was awarded approximately RM 810,628, to be paid within 30 days of the award date.

Kuruvilla was represented by lawyer T. M. Varughese, while MDEC was represented by lawyers Shariffullah Majeed and Amardeep Singh Toor. Industrial Court chairman Augustine Anthony presided over the case.

MDEC, an agency established in 1996 and now under the Communications and Multimedia Ministry, was formed to implement the Multimedia Super Corridor initiative and to lead the growth of information and communications technology as well as the digital economy in the country.

During the course of the trial, which began on February 28, 2019, MDEC argued that Kuruvilla’s work performance began to degrade from 2015 onwards, which forced it to place him under several performance improvement plans (PIP) which lasted until 2017.

Despite guidance given to the claimant to achieve his job scope and key performance indicators, MDEC eventually rated the ex-manager’s performance as unacceptable with failure to make the necessary improvements, leading to his dismissal in May 2018.

On his part, Kuruvilla argued that when he began working in the company in September 2007 in a senior managerial role, no unsatisfactory issues relating to his performance were reported for the first seven years. He claimed that when a new chief executive officer took over the helm in September 2014, he was subsequently transferred to another department in April, 2015.

The then-new CEO who began heading MDEC in September 2014 is Datuk Yasmin Mahmood, formerly the managing director of Microsoft Malaysia and general manager of HP and Dell. She served for over four years before resigning from the post in January 2019.

Kuruvilla claimed that he was not a poor performer and should have never been placed under the PIPs, adding that in the new department he was given multiple objectives unrelated to his job scope, made subordinate to several other different managers, given limited or no guidance at all, and at times placed under humiliating circumstances.

In Kuruvilla’s argument, this was an attempt by the company to terminate him as an employee, and that in doing so they engaged in unfair labour practices by victimising and then dismissing him, a decision which he said was tainted with bad faith and done without just cause or excuse.

Following the court proceedings over the course of 23 months, with numerous similar unfair employment dismissal cases from 1981 to 2019 cited throughout, the Industrial Court determined that Kuruvilla was indeed not given enough time to accomplish the tasks assigned to him, nor was he accorded sufficient opportunity to improve, and was not given adequate guidance and assistance during his PIPs.

It also determined that Kuruvilla’s frequent transfers in a short period of less than four years after his September 2014 transfer to another department, and his placement under various performance managers is clear evidence of MDEC putting him under extreme pressure and creating impediments and frustration to his work performance.

As such the company’s cumulative conduct was deemed not to be in aid of bettering Kuruvilla’s performance, but instead driven to cause its deterioration instead. To this it ruled that MDEC failed to prove on the balance of probabilities that his dismissal from employment was done with just cause or excuse.

Kuruvilla’s awarded sum includes 24 months of back wages totalling RM572,208, and compensation in lieu of reinstatement for 10 months totalling RM238,420.

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