My 2nd Sint Maarten anniversary: Legal Insights

My 2nd Sint Maarten anniversary: Legal Insights

From Attorney at Law Suhendra Leon

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This month will be the second anniversary of my relocation to Sint Maarten. Although the island is completely different to my native island, I feel at home – maybe that has to do with random people speaking Papiamentu to me at unexpected moments. I have encountered people from all over the world, and as a foodie, I enjoy eating at all the restaurants on the island. I also feel safer living in Sint Maarten, in comparison to living in Curaçao or the Netherlands.

I also enjoy my job, the kind of legal cases I assist clients with, and the professionalism of my colleagues. As an attorney, it is expected of me to be critical, to see matters that others do not perceive as problems as red flags. That is what I was educated and trained for. But being a lawyer in Sint Maarten, I have noticed that being critical is not nearly enough, and the expectation is that I should doubt every word ever said to me. That is sometimes very exhausting. I have noticed that there is a degree of distrust that I still cannot put my finger on.

What I find completely puzzling is that people can joke and have a good time with each other, but still cannot trust that the other will do the right thing when the situation becomes serious. I’m too new to the island to really understand this. However, I have noticed that it affects employment law cases in a significant manner. Employers and employees can often take the attitude that the other one is out to get them. This is not unusual in the legal context, but I’ve noticed that on the island, this attitude is more than what I’ve experienced elsewhere.

An employment agreement gives the legal framework for an employment relationship. But what happens during employment is pretty much about trust. The employer needs to trust that employees can do their job to the best of their capacity, in accordance with the instruction given. Employees must trust that they will receive a salary at the end of the month, and that their employer adheres to the employment laws. I say it’s simplistic, as with employment there are a lot of other aspects that both parties should expect of each other, such as respect, growth, satisfaction and the like. The mutual goal in my view is to create a win-win situation for both parties.

The simplest example of lack of trust I see in my daily practice, is the refusal to sign when receiving a letter or warning from the employer. People may think that by signing such a letter, the other party can bind them to the contents; but refusing to sign a letter will not make the letter go away or make it a less legally valid document. The correct attitude would be to sign to acknowledge receipt and then if necessary, write on the letter that the signature is for receipt. Then read the letter carefully and if you’re in disagreement, react to the contents of the letter, preferably in writing.

As I said before, the employment is a relationship, so the communication in that relationship should not only consist of warning letters. Communicating only in warning letters will not be conducive to building trust. I would recommend documenting every conversation in which behaviour of the employee is addressed, but it is not necessary to issue a warning letter every time behaviour is addressed. Depending on the gravity of the conduct of the employee, the employer can have a conversation with the employee regarding certain behaviours, and what the employer expects going forward. After the conversation, the employer can confirm via email, letter or WhatsApp what was discussed.

A couple of weeks ago, I had to really scratch my head, when an employer requested me to advise regarding a matter in which letters were prepared for the employee. The employer informed me that this employee would usually refuse to receive any document from the employer. My personal thought was: How can there be any productive work relationship in such a situation?

The law protects the employee, as the lawmaker regards the employee as the weaker party, but a good employer-employee relationship requires more than the law; it requires trust to create a win-win situation for both parties.