Supreme Court: Workman's Dismissal without an Enquiry can be Justified by Employer by leading evidence On 20 January 2021, the Supreme Court of India (SC) consisting of a bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Navin Sinha, and Indu Malhotra observed that dismissal of a workman by the employer cannot be interfered with merely on the ground that it did not conduct a disciplinary enquiry, if...
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Supreme Court: Workman's Dismissal without an Enquiry can be Justified by Employer by leading evidence
On 20 January 2021, the Supreme Court of India (SC) consisting of a bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Navin Sinha, and Indu Malhotra observed that dismissal of a workman by the employer cannot be interfered with merely on the ground that it did not conduct a disciplinary enquiry, if the employer could justify the act before the Labour Court
The Top Court in the case of State Of Uttarakhand (Appellants) v. Sureshwati (Respondent) said that, where an employer has failed to enquire before dismissal of a workman, it is open for him to justify the action before the Labour Court by leading evidence before it.
The facts of the case are that the respondent was engaged as an Assistant Teacher in Jai Bharat Junior High School (School) and later she worked as a Clerk. The School was an unaided Private Institution and from 2005 onwards it started receiving grants-in-aid from the State, and later it came under the purview of Uttaranchal School Education Act, 2006.
On 15 July 2006, a complaint was lodged by the respondent before the School wherein she alleged that she had worked continuously till 7 March 2006,and her services were illegally terminated on 8 March 2006 without giving her an opportunity of being heard or without paying her retrenchment compensation.
On 31 August 2006, the respondent requested to the Additional District Education Officer, to conduct an inquiry. The Basic School Inspector conducted an inquiry on the Complaint made by the respondent.
A detailed report was submitted stating that the respondent had tampered and manipulated the date of her appointment, by mentioning two different dates. It was also revealed that her employment was illegal and that she had not worked in the School from July 1997 onwards.
It was further observed that no complaint was filed by the respondent till 2006 regarding the termination of her employment. It was made only after the School started receiving grants-in-aid from the State and was declared a Government School.
The respondent filed another complaint before the Labour Commissioner; the complaint was referred to the Additional Labour Commissioner to determine whether the alleged termination of the services of the workman was proper and valid.
The Labour Court passed an ex-parte order in favour of the employee. A writ petition was filed for challenging the said award before the High Court of Uttarakhand (HC). The HC allowed the Writ Petition and remanded the case to the Labour Court to decide the matter.
The Labour Court held that the Respondent was not entitled to any relief as sufficient evidence was produced by the Management to prove the continued absence of Respondent from the service since 1 July 1997. It was further held that the Claimant/Respondent had not approached the Court with clean hands and had concealed material facts.
The respondent filed Writ Petition before the HC which was allowed stating that the employer had conducted no inquiry regarding the abandonment of service by the employee. The HC reversed the Judgment passed by the Labour Court and directed the reinstatement of the Respondent.
The appellants filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the SC challenging the order of the HC.
The SC relied on the judgment of the case Workmen of the Motipur Sugar Factory Private Ltd. v. Motipur Sugar Factory, AIR 1965 SC 1803, whereinan employer failed to make an enquiry before dismissal of the employee and it was made open for him to justify the action before the Labour Court by leading evidence before it.
The SC stated, "The School has led sufficient evidence before the Labour Court to prove that the Respondent had abandoned her service from 1 July 1997 when she got married, and moved to another District, which was not denied by her in her evidence. The record of the School reveals that she was not in employment of the School since July 1997".
The Top Court also referred to the judgment passed in the case of Bhavnagar Municipal Corpn v. Jadega Govubha Chhanubha, (2014) 16 SCC 130, and stated that, "It is fairly well-settled that for an order of termination of the services of a workman to be held illegal on account of non-payment of retrenchment compensation, it is essential for the workman to establish that he was in continuous service of the employer within the meaning of Section 25-B of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
According to the Top Court, On the basis of the evidence led before the Labour Court, we hold that the School has established that the Respondent had abandoned her service in 1997, and had never reported back for work."
It further held, The Respondent has failed to discharge the onus to prove that she had worked for 240 days' in the preceding 12 months prior to her alleged termination on 8.3.2006. The onus was entirely upon the employee to prove that she had worked continuously for 240 days' in the twelve months preceding the date of her alleged termination on 8.3.2006, which she failed to discharge."
The SC allowed the appeal setting aside the judgment of the High Court.