Use of abusive language against superior may not warrant “capital punishment” of dismissal from service: Madras High Court

Use of abusive language against superior may not warrant "capital punishment" of dismissal from service: Madras High Court

Using abusive language or getting into a heated argument with a superior may not necessarily warrant the “capital punishment” of dismissal from service, the Madras High Court recently held.

A Bench of Justices S Vaidyanathan and R Kalaimathi allowed the appeal filed by one S Raja, a former trade union member who was expelled from one of the tea companies owned by Hindustan Unilever (HUL).

In 2009, Raja had allegedly used abusive language against his superiors, and even pulled one of the members of the management by the collar of his shirt.

Following an inquiry, Raja was terminated from service. He then approached a labour court, which directed that he be reinstated and paid 50 per cent of the backwages for the period that he remained without the job.

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On appeal, a single-judge of the High Court stayed the labour court order, saying it had been passed mechanically. Raja then filed an appeal which was decided by the present Division Bench.

While allowing his appeal, the Bench said that while imposing punishment, an authority must take into account, the “extenuating or aggravating situation, as well as the past record of an employee.”

“In this case, the Workman was imposed with a punishment in the year 2001 and the present incident has taken place after a decade. It cannot be construed that the Workman has been indulging in exhibition of such misbehaviour frequently. As stated earlier, the usage of abusive language may not be a serious one to impose a capital punishment of dismissal from service,” the judgment stated.

The Court further said that the labour court is empowered to interfere with the punishment, if it was found that the punishment was “grossly disproportionate.” Reflecting on what might have caused Raja’s outburst, the Court said,

“As to what induced the Workman to behave like this against his Superior Officer that made him to hold his collar and who was the root cause for the sudden provocation of the Workman, which is of course construed to be unbecoming of a Workman, is a question of fact. We cannot expect a low-level employee to behave like Jesus so as to turn his other cheek for getting a voluntary slap. The disputed question of fact cannot be gone into in this Appeal. This observation does not mean that we justify the act of the employee and approve his misconduct.”

The Court accordingly allowed Raja’s appeal and partially modified the labour court’s order. It directed that Raja be reinstated with HUL, but said that he need not be paid his backwages.

Advocate PR Thiruneelakandan appeared for Raja. Advocate Sanjay Mohan appeared for HUL.

[Read order – Yogesh Parihar v Delhi Technical University and Ors.]

Source: barandbench

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