In the matter of The Management of Hirsch Watch Straps (P) Ltd. and Ors. v. The Presiding Officer Labour Court and Ors., the Madras High Court on 7th June 2011 quashed the order of the Labour Court which had set aside the punishment imposed on the Respondent workman who had allegedly misbehaved with another workman, and had directed his reinstatement without back wages, but with continuity of service and other benefits.
The workman was the Vice President of Hirsch Employees’ Union. One day when the workman along with office bearers of his Union were standing in front of the factory gate, another workman, by name Ms. R. Kanchana asked that she may be dropped in the bus stand in her two-wheeler as she was in a hurry since her paternal uncle had passed away. But another Vice President informed the workman that he can take his two-wheeler to drop her in the bus stand. Therefore, the workman took the two-wheeler. The workman allegedly misbehaved with her by placing his hand on her breast. The workman was sent out of the factory.
The Labour Court had found that the workman did not object to the procedure adopted by the Enquiry Officer and also did not challenge the findings of the Enquiry Officer and therefore, it held that there was no necessity to decide the preliminary issue regarding the validity of the enquiry and the findings of the enquiry officer. Further according to the Court, parties have confined themselves only to arguments on the quantum of penalty and invoked the jurisdiction of the Labour Court under Section 11-A of the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 to go into the proportionality.
The Labour Court overruled the objection regarding jurisdiction, namely, that since the incident had taken place outside the factory gate and outside duty hours and since it is not a misconduct covered by the provisions of the certified Standing Orders, no action can be taken, by holding that the Standing Orders provide for action to be initiated for the incident relates to employment.
The Labour Court on appreciation of the materials on record, agreed with the workman’s explanations that out of tension while moving the handle-bar, incidentally his hand fell on the woman worker; that there was a lorry which came in front of the two wheeler and it was impossible to drive the vehicle with one hand and doing the other hand for dishonouring the woman worker. The Labour Court had noted that even the workman had agreed that his hand fell on her breast and since there was no previous misconduct committed by the workman, it can be said that it is not as if in order to bring disruptive to the woman worker, he had behaved in that fashion.
Though the Management relied upon the judgment of Vishaka, the Court strangely held that there was no quarrel over the proposition laid down by the Supreme Court. The Labour Court had noted that the fact that the Management denied employment as soon as the woman worker gave a complaint, shows that the Management was waiting for an opportunity. Though the punishment of dismissal was not a proper punishment to deny back wages, granting relief of reinstatement is a sufficient punishment. Accordingly, the Labour Court ordered reinstatement with service continuity and other attendant benefits, but denied back wages.
The current writ petition is filed by the The Management of Hirsch Watch Straps (P) Ltd. and Ors., challenging the order of Labour Court which set aside the punishment imposed on the Respondent workman and directed reinstatement without back wages, but with continuity of service and other benefits.
The Madras High Court in the case of held that: –
- In a charge of sexual harassment, especially when the Management had referred to the judgment of Vishaka before the Labour Court and when the Labour Court after holding that there was no quarrel over the proposition laid therein, ought to have referred to the judgment of the Supreme Court and should have let out its mind in understanding the law on the said subject relating to sexual harassment of woman in workplace.
- On strength of strong evidence against workman and also certifying Standing Order, were not in support of workman, the Labour Court ought not to have interfered with penalty imposed by the Management.
- It was only in cases where Labour Court finds that enquiry was not fair and proper, or findings of Enquiry Officer were perverse, interference under Section 11-A of the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 was called for. It was not a case where any re-appreciation of evidence was called for.
- On the other hand, findings of Labour Court by holding that it was an accidental touch made by the workman and not a case of molestation and there was no prior incident regarding same, was a clear case of perversity and having a blind approach to issue on hand.
- High Court did not appreciate stand of Labour Court and award of Labour Court was liable to be interfered with. There was no necessity to interfere with quantum of punishment, when evidence placed against workman was completely justified and findings of misconduct and also, proportionality of punishment, did not call for any interference.
- Hence, the impugned award of Labour Court was set aside and the current writ petition was allowed.
– Esha Shah, Paralegal – POSH at Work