• Wednesday, 24 July 2024
Act of mercy that resulted in teacher job loss

Act of mercy that resulted in teacher job loss

One principal confessed to his employer that he had let a sick schoolgirl cook food in his home, some of which she brought to her dorm, believing it to be a small enough offense to plead guilty to.

He was laid off by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), and on October 27 the Employment and Labour Relations Court upheld that decision, leaving him without a job.

In addition, he had asked for Sh5.6 million in damages, the majority of which was in the form of gratuities. As a result of his failure to establish his right to a gratuity, the court in Kisumu ruled that he should not receive any compensation and should only be given a certificate of service.

The decision by Justice Christine Baari that endorsed the firing of Mr. Gregory Onyango Obonyo, a teacher since 1990, reads like a tragicomedy.
His most recent position was as the headmaster of Migori County's Kanga Onditi Mixed Secondary School.

He had been the head of the school for a year when the incident that led to his dismissal occurred.

The plot revolves around a clause in the TSC Code of Conduct and Ethics for Teachers, which was published in 2015 as a subsidiary law. A teacher is not permitted to "send learners to their personal residence for any reason," according to Section 22 (2) of the code.

The judge claims that Mr. Onyango, as the head of the school, "should have led by example in ensuring compliance with the employer's codes of conduct and ethics" somewhere in the judgment.

The incident started on the evening of January 28, 2019, when Mr. Onyango was approached by two teachers—the senior teacher and the boarding master, respectively—along with the schoolgirl.
The girl claimed to be ill and to have spent the entire day sleeping in the dorm.

"According to (Mr. Onyango), neither a matron nor a resident female teacher was present at the school, nor was there a dispensary. He also claims to have sent Mr. Alex Ochieng, the school watchman, to buy painkillers for the student, according to the ruling.

Mr. Onyango claims that because the student hadn't eaten, he told his nephew, who lived with him (his name has been changed because he is a minor), to give the student some food. The court document continues, "Mr. Onyango asserts that he then went to bed because he wasn't feeling well that day.

TSC testified in court that it had been determined through its inquiries, during which it had spoken with a number of people, that the girl had spent a significant amount of time at the principal's house. The judge summarizes TSC's case by writing, "Having slept through supper, she went to Mr. Onyango's residence where he offered her food, which she cooked for herself."

"TSC states that the team further established that the student stayed at Mr. Onyango's residence for two hours before returning to the dorm with food that she had prepared; further, it was only after being questioned by her fellow students that she confessed to having been there and that she had gotten the food from him," she continues.

A TSC disciplinary committee met on February 13, 2019, in response to the findings, and heard testimony from Mr. Onyango, his nephew, and the schoolgirl. TSC deduced from its cross-examinations that the principal had a case to answer, and as a result, the principal was interdicted.

The charges were read to Mr. Onyango as they appeared in his interdiction letter when he appeared before the disciplinary panel on June 25, 2019, and he pleaded guilty to all of them, according to the judgment.
Despite Mr. Onyango's admission of guilt, TSC informed the court that four witnesses were present. It ultimately decided to fire him.

On June 15, 2021, Mr. Onyango spoke with the TSC review committee about his dissatisfaction. He claimed before the committee that he was aware of the rules establishing the separation between students and teachers in order to prevent sexual offenses. After the review committee upheld his dismissal, Mr. Onyango filed a case with the Employment court in November 2021 as a result.

The judgment summarizes the principal's argument: "Mr. Onyango submits that the decision by TSC was too harsh as he provided health, safety, and security to the learner by offering medicine when the sick girl needed it."

According to the court record, it was alleged that Mr. Onyango had sexual contact with the schoolgirl at some point during the proceedings. The dismissal was entirely attributable to the teacher's act of letting the student stay at his house, the judge ruled.

After reviewing the procedures followed in the teacher's termination and the available channels for appeal, Justice Baari concluded that TSC had done nothing wrong in the way it let Mr. Onyango go.

"In my opinion, the timeline of the previously mentioned events shows that TSC made every effort to comply with the mandatory requirements of Section 41 of the Employment Act with regard to the termination/dismissal procedure. The dismissal of Mr. Onyango passed the procedural fairness test, I find and hold," the judge concluded.

The charge of carnal knowledge was not brought against Mr. Onyango, and his dismissal was not based on it, she continued.
More words from the judge are below. In order to ensure adherence to the employer's code of conduct and ethics as well as other laws and regulations that seek to protect students from potential sexual predators, Mr. Onyango, as the school's principal, should have set an excellent example.

For obvious reasons, TSC's Code of Conduct and Ethics expressly forbids students from visiting teachers' quarters. The fact that Mr. Onyango admitted breaking the code is sufficient, legitimate, and justification for his dismissal.

She continued, ordering TSC to give Mr. Onyango a certificate of service within seven days because "an employee is entitled to irrespective of the reasons for his or her separation from the employer." She said that Mr. Onyango had failed to establish that he was entitled to a gratuity, which is typically only paid where it is expressly stated in a contract of employment.

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