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Your Rights As An Employee (Or What Your Employers Don’t Want You To Know)

Sri Lanka, among its many other titles, is a socialist country (the Democratic SOCIALIST Republic of Sri Lanka) which means, in lay terms, that it should be a paradise for employees and a nightmare for employers. There are approximately 30 Acts of Parliament which are applicable to employees regulating everything from work hours to the cubic space a worker is entitled to.

Unfortunately, an alarming number of employees (especially those working at top notch private companies in good positions) are gloriously unaware of their basic rights ‒ and yes, even executives and managers have rights given to them by law with regard to their employment. Here are a few which may be applicable to the day to day work life of a Sri Lanka employee (Note: These rights are mainly applicable to permanent employees of private companies, and the following is a skeleton of the most basic interpretation of the law):

1. Your contract of employment is not like a normal contract

As a democratic ‘socialist’ nation, Sri Lanka should ideally be a heaven for employees – unfortunately, not everyone is aware of their rights. Image courtesy webs.bcp.org

Thanks to Sri Lanka’s socialist employment laws that favour employees, a contract of employment is not like any other contract which is binding between two parties to the letter. An employer-employee relationship can be created even without an employment contract. As the following will show, even most clauses in a contract of employment have no effect in law (such as the termination clause in most employment contracts which states that an employer can give notice and terminate an employee ‒ no, an employer cannot just give notice and terminate you).

2. Continuously renewed contract employees are permanent employees

The trends in Employment Law in Sri Lanka suggest that an employee working under a contract of employment given for a specific period (such as a one-year contract) if renewed continuously (for at least over three years) MAY be deemed to be a permanent employee. This means that such an employee can expect continuous service even after the expiration of such continuously renewed contracts.

3. You cannot be terminated by your employer on non-disciplinary grounds

The Termination of Employment (Special Provisions) Act specifies that no person may be terminated from his services other than through his consent or by an application made to the Commissioner of Labour. However, if you are still within your probation period, you can be terminated without reason. If the Commissioner approves such a termination you are entitled to compensation based on the number of years you have been in service. This is why the “notice termination clause” is invalid.

4. You cannot be asked to resign

You cannot be asked to resign, or have your contract terminated on non-disciplinary grounds. Image courtesy Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Being forced or coerced into a resignation by an employer (to avoid point No. 3 above) is deemed a constructive termination of services by the employer. You are entitled to challenge such a termination at a Labour Tribunal and even receive compensation/reinstatement.

5. You can challenge every termination for disciplinary grounds in Labour Tribunals

Terminations on disciplinary grounds can be challenged before Labour Tribunals and the trends in Employment Law in Sri Lanka suggest that only a very serious offence (such as theft, dishonesty, insubordination etc.) will justify a termination on the grounds of discipline.

6. Your duties/nature of work cannot be changed without your consent

Any substantial change of your duties/work station without your consent can also be deemed a constructive termination of services which entitles you to challenge it at a Labour Tribunal or make a complaint to the Commissioner of Labour. However, in case of a transfer of service to another location, you must always first comply and then complain.

7. Your salary cannot be reduced and you cannot be demoted for no reason

Demotion is a punishment. Demotions/reductions of salaries must be on strong and proven grounds of discipline. If not, they are also deemed constructive termination of services which entitle you to challenge them at Labour Tribunals and/or before the Commissioner of Labour.

8. You cannot be punished without good reason

Every punishment on grounds of discipline must be proven. You are entitled to be heard and each punishment is liable to be challenged before the Labour Tribunal.

9. You cannot be suspended without pay or for unreasonably long periods

The latest Supreme Court decisions suggest that an employee cannot be suspended without pay pending disciplinary proceedings. Even such suspension must not be for long periods of time and disciplinary proceedings must be commenced and concluded in a short time period.

10. You cannot be harassed or pressured or discriminated in the workplace

You cannot be harassed, pressured or discriminated against. Image courtesy abc.net.au

An employer must ensure a conducive work space. If you are harassed by the management to the extent that you are forced to leave the workplace, this amounts to constructive termination of services for which you can claim compensation before a Labour Tribunal. If an employer fails to take adequate measures to stop harassment by other employees, the same is applicable. Events of ignored sexual harassment can also be considered as such.

11. Your leave

Under the Shop and Office Employees Act (in other words by law), you are entitled to a minimum of 7 days of Casual Leave and 14 days of Annual Leave. However, most companies give additional leave.

12. Everyone is entitled to EPF and ETF

Every employee, whether probationary, trainee, or permanent, is entitled to be paid (unless there is a more beneficial scheme relating to retirement) 12% and 3% of such an employee’s “earnings” on their behalf to the EPF and ETF funds respectively.

13. EPF, ETF payments are payable on your allowances as well

While most employees receive a basic salary plus a number of allowances, in most cases, EPF and ETF payments must be made on these allowances as well and not only on the basic salary. Any disputes can be referred to the Department of Labour (in Colombo this is the eight-storey building on Kirula Road – in front of Asiri Hospital).

14. You are entitled to gratuity

You are entitled to a payment of gratuity at the end of your services if you have worked for over five years with an employer who has over fifteen employees calculated at half of last drawn monthly salary for each year of completed service.*

15. You are generally expected to work not more than eight hours a day and forty-five hours a week

You cannot be expected to work more than eight hours a day, and are entitled to a one-hour lunch break. Image courtesy workhouses.org.uk

The Shop and Office Employees Act specifies that an employee is expected to work less than eight hours a day and less than forty-five hours a week (excluding breaks). However, executive or managerial grade employees in the public sector are excluded from this limit.

16. You have one hour off for lunch (and maybe half an hour for tea)

The same Shop and Office Employees Act specifies that you are entitled to one hour off for lunch if you work between 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and another half-hour off if you work past 6:00 p.m.

17. Ladies may not be compelled to work the night

Women may not be compelled to work the night, and are entitled to maternity leave. Image courtesy Getty Images

If you are a female not holding “responsible positions of managerial or technical character” or not in health and welfare services, you cannot be compelled to work at night against your will. (This is subject to a few exclusions.)

18. You are entitled to be paid one and a half times your daily wage if working on a full moon poya day

Working on Poya days = extra pay. Image courtesy 7-themes.com

If you are unfortunate enough to be working on a poya day, you are entitled to be paid one and a half times your daily pay, unless in a managerial or executive position.

19. Maternity leave

A minimum of seventy days has been given by law as maternity leave following the birth of the first or second child and twenty-eight days following the birth of the third child onwards.

20. You are entitled to proper ventilation, clean toilets, and lighting

So feel free to point out the lightbulb that needs changing.

Do note, however, that these rights are those applicable mainly to employees working in private companies. Government workers, those working in the Armed Forces, or government-run business enterprises have different/varied applicable laws and regulations. In any event, all these rights are subjective and must be considered in the applicable situations in the light of surrounding facts.

*Clarification: The Payment of Gratuity Act No 12 1983 (as amended) classifies the payment of gratuity for different types of employees as follows:

Employees of Agricultural land/estates (vested with LRC) – ONE MONTH wage for each completed year of service

Labourers of Agricultural land – FOURTEEN DAYS wage or salary for each completed year of service

Employees in other industries – HALF A MONTH for each completed year of service

Featured image courtesy: GP Lewis/IWM Via Getty Images

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