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Disciplinary Enquiry Before Dismissing A Work

On 20th January 2021, In the case of The State Of Uttarakhand V. Sureshwati, the state of Uttarakhand challenged the judgment passed by the high court of Uttarakhand in W.P no 3439(m/s) of 2016 dated 28.8.2019 by filing a special leave petition. Hence the 3 judge bench of L.Nageswara Rao, Navin Sinha, and Indu Malhotra in the supreme court has reversed the award passed by the labor court and restated important principles governing the extent of inquiry into employee's wrongdoing and arising employer's disciplinary action.

It was held that dismissal of a workman by his/her employer cannot be involved with only on the ground that it did not conduct a disciplinary inquiry if the latter could justify the action before the Labour Court. Where is open for a workman or employee to justify the action before the labor court if the employer failed to enquire discharge of a workman.

Summary Of Case
In the present case, the respondent ( Smt.Sureshwati) was an assistant teacher in jai Bharat junior high school, Haridwar from July 1993 to 21.5.1994. Subsequently, she started working as a clerk from 1.7.1994 and the district basic education officer officially appointed Respondent as a clerk on 25.3.1996. during this period, the school was an unaided private institution.

The started receiving grants in aid from the state from 24th May 2005 came to be governed by Uttaranchal School Education Act 2006. After 9 years, the Respondent filed a complaint before the School contending that she had worked continuously up to 07.03.2006. She alleged that on 8th March 2006 her services were illegally retrenched without granting her any hearing, or payment of retrenchment compensation.

During the inspection done by the basic school inspector in the presence of both the parties. It had been found that the respondent had manipulated the date of appointment by mentioning two different dates and revealed that employment was illegal since the father of the respondent was a member of the managing committee and her mother was the chairman. The records proved that the respondent had not worked in the school since 1997 nor there was any left application received from her. She never made any objection about her alleged termination till 2006 which was made only after the school started receiving grants in aid from the state.

Labour court responded against the respondent on August 22, 2016, based on the following contentions:
  • The management proved the absence of respondent since 01.07.1997.
  • The respondent failed to prove that she had been terminated on 08.03.2006.
  • Consequently, the respondent failed to discharge the onus of her employment till 8.03.2006.
  • The respondent contended that her appointment had been illegally terminated which was unreliable and devoid of any truth.
  • Finally, it was held that she had concealed facts and had not approached with the clean hands.

Aggrieved by the judgment, the respondent filed a writ petition in the Uttarakhand high court. The court allowed the writ petition because the employer had admitted in the cross-examination that no inquiry was conducted, or disciplinary proceedings began regarding the abandonment of service of the employee.

Importance Of Internal Enquiry
The apex court has in a catena of decisions held that where an employer has failed to enquire dismissal or discharge of an employee, it is open for him to justify the action before the Labour Court by leading evidence before it.

In the case D.K. Yadav v. J.M.A. Industries the court emphasized the importance of a domestic inquiry before discharging an employee by connecting it with the right to livelihood which is enshrined in article 21 of the Indian constitution. The court observed that to comply with the principles of natural justice, there is a reasonable opportunity is provided to an employee before dismissing an end to his employment.

Similarly, the same has been held in the case of Workmen of Motipur Sugar Factory Private Ltd. v.Motipur Sugar Factory, wherein the Supreme Court observed that the employer would not have the benefit which it had in cases where domestic inquiries have been held. The entire matter will have the jurisdiction to satisfy itself on the facts produced before the court by the employer and it would be open before the tribunal to decide whether the dismissal or discharge was justified.

Decision Of The Present Case
In the present case, it has been observed by the court that the parties were given opportunities to produce evidence before the labor court to prove their statements. Without considering the evidence, the High court disposed of the writ petition on the ground that the school had not conducted a disciplinary inquiry before dismissing Smt.Sureshwati from service. Hence , the high court involved an unnecessary interference in the discharge of the workman.

The court, relying on Bhavnagar MunicipalCorpn v. Jadega Govubha Chhanubha [(2014) 16 SCC 130], ,stated that in order to prove the illegality discharge of a workman on account of non-payment of retrenchment compensation, the employee needs to produce evidence of his or her continuous service of the employer within the meaning of section 25-B of the industrial dispute act, 1947.

According to section 25-B(2)(a) (ii) of the Industrial Disputes Act, the condition of continuous service of the employer is fulfilled when it is proved that, during 12 calendar months preceding the date concerning which calculation is to be made, the employee has worked under the employer for not less than 240 days. In the above-referred case, it has been observed that the burden to prove actual and continuous service of the employer lay squarely on the workman.

Therefore, in the current case, the respondent failed to prove that she had worked for 240 days during the year preceding alleged termination on 8 March 2006. However, she failed to produce any evidence to substantiate her case.

Conclusion
The right to hear is one of the vital parts of the principles of natural justice which demands that an employee who is impacted by the decision made by the employer should be given a fair chance to defend. But, the Supreme Court has created exceptions for circumstances where an employer fails to conduct an inquiry before dismissing an employee from his tenure through several judgments.

The labor court was enabled to examine the evidence of both parties. However, in this case, the Supreme Court has disagreed with the Uttarkhand High court's opinion that the absence of disciplinary inquiry can be a reason for intervening with the award passed by the labour court. Hence, putting back a workman solely on the grounds of the lack of internal inquiry or the existence of a defective enquiry can cause injustice to an employer.

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