All HR professionals are aware that the words misconduct and moral turpitude are not defined anywhere in labour laws. It is clear that the law makers find it difficult to define them precisely. However the model standing orders under the Industrial Employment standing orders Act enumerated the misconducts though they are not exhaustive. An attempt is made to explain the concepts with reference to meaning given in the dictionary and also interpretation given by the judiciary in various judgements. There is no straight jacket formula or mathematical criteria to understand them. In the absence of clear and concise definitions, it is much more difficult to explain the misconducts involving moral turpitude and consequences thereof under the labour laws. Judicial pronouncements are major source to elucidate the subject in its right perspective.
Misconduct under labour laws:
In the common parlance, misconduct refers to an Act or conduct of deviation or disorderly or improper behaviour in violation of a rule, or standard behaviour. Supreme court in Glaxo Laboratories VS PO (AIR 1984 SC 505) held that "Misconduct is violation of some set of action. It is a specific word with specific connection. It cannot be mere inefficiency or slackness. It is something more positive, deliberate deviation or disobedience of any order of a superior authority. It includes malfeasance, misdemeanour, delinquency and offence. Casual connection in order to provide linkage between the alleged act of misconduct and the employment must be real and substantial, immediate and proximate and not remote or tenuous".
The Gujarat High Court in one of the judgements held that "the word misconduct, though not capable of precise definition, its reflection receives its connotation from the context, the delinquency in its performance, and its effect on the discipline and the nature of duty. It must be improper or wrong behaviour, unlawful behaviour, wilful in character, forbidden act, a transgression of established and definite rule of action or code of conduct but not mere error of judgement, carelessness or negligence in performance of duty, the act complained of bears forbidden quality or character. (SolankiLaxman Singh Vs State of Gujarat 1994 LIC 1679).
In the absence of specific definition," what is misconduct will naturally depend upon the circumstances of each case. Finally in its essence the misconduct is construed as an act or conduct which would be quite incompatible with the express or implied terms of relationship of the employee to the employer.
P.Soma Raju - Consultant HR IR & Labour Laws, Hyderabad