19 April 2023 10:36 AM GMT
The Karnataka High Court has said that Labour Court before coming to a conclusion that domestic enquiry conducted by the employer against terminated employee is not fair and proper, it has to grant opportunity to the employer to establish the Articles of Charge, levelled by it against the employee. A single judge bench of Justice Suraj Govindaraj allowed the petition filed by M/s TTK...
The Karnataka High Court has said that Labour Court before coming to a conclusion that domestic enquiry conducted by the employer against terminated employee is not fair and proper, it has to grant opportunity to the employer to establish the Articles of Charge, levelled by it against the employee.
A single judge bench of Justice Suraj Govindaraj allowed the petition filed by M/s TTK Healthcare Ltd and set aside the award dated 28.02.2014 passed by the Prl. Labour Court, Bangalore. It remanded the matter back to the Labour court for fresh disposal by providing an opportunity to the employer to lead evidence to establish the charges against the workman.
The petitioner is engaged in the manufacture of ready to fry products and has established a factory with around 60 workmen. The workman P V Ravi, was working as an Operator on a G700 Gelatinizer mixing machine with the aid of a helper by name Annayachari.B.C.
On 10.9.2011, it is alleged that Ravi tied a thin wire to the limit switch and allowed the contract worker N.Devaraj to clean the mixing machine. The contract worker while cleaning, touched the knob which started the machine and caused the accident resulting in instantaneous death of the contract worker. It was alleged that if the thin wire was not tied to the limit switch, the accident itself would not have happened since the safety switch would not have allowed the machine to start.
On September 22, 2011 a charge memo was issued to both the respondent and Annayachari. The respondent Ravi submitted his reply and explanation, finding the same not satisfactory the Enquiry Officer was appointed.
The Enquiry Officer submitted its report and findings on 5.1.2012 holding Ravi guilty of the charges. Following, which a second show cause notice enclosing the report and finding of the Enquiry Officer was issued to the respondent, the reply thereto being not satisfactory, the Disciplinary authority terminated the services of the respondent by order dt. 10.03.2012.
Following which the workman raised a dispute before the Prl. Labour Court. The labour court held the domestic enquiry to be fair and proper vide order dated 5.10.2013. However, vide award dated 28.02.2014 held the findings of the enquiry officer as perverse and set-aside the termination order directing the petitioner to reinstate the workman in his original post with 50% backwages, continuity of service and all consequential benefits. The company challenged the order before the High Court.
The petitioner contended that the principle of Res Ipsa Loquitor would apply inasmuch as the incident speaks for itself and the fact that the incident has occurred and a person has died establishes the negligence on part of the workman and consequently justifies the action taken by the employer. Though the workman has sought to contend that it is under the instructions of the employer that a wire has been tied to the limit switch, there is no document produced to establish the same nor is there any oral evidence led by any witness in support of the same. Thus the mere contention of the workman ought not to have been believed by the labour court, it was argued.
Further, when evidence has not been taken into consideration by the labour Court, the labour Court could not have come to the conclusion that the report of the enquiry officer is perverse, bad in law and not sustainable, it was said.
The respondent opposed the plea saying that though initially charge sheet was submitted against both the respondent and Annayachari and a joint enquiry was held, the Enquiry Officer has submitted a report that it is only the respondent-workman against whom charges are proved and not against Annayachari.
Further, there is no legal or probable evidence on record which would support the claim of the employer that the respondent-workman has been negligent and or responsible for the accident, it was said.
It was argued that labour Court has rightly come to a conclusion that serious charges against the respondent-workman has not been established and it is for this reason that the labour Court has come to a conclusion that the report of the Enquiry Officer is perverse and bad in law.
The bench noted that whenever any matter comes up before the labour Court either on a reference by the Government order or on a claim petition filed by the workman challenging the punishment which has been imposed by the employer, the first question that is required to be framed and answered by the labour adjudicator is as regards whether the enquiry proceedings has been fair and proper.
It is only when a finding is arrived at that the enquiry is fair and proper that the matter may be taken up on merits in relation to the offence alleged and the punishment awarded.
Whenever a finding on the preliminary question is in the negative, in such event the employer is required to be provided with an opportunity to establish the offence alleged against the workman and in that regard, the employer would get another opportunity to establish the charges against the workman.
Then it said “In the present case, the labour Court initially had come to a conclusion vide its order dated 5.10.2013 that the domestic enquiry was fair and proper, however, while passing the final award on 28.02.2014 the labour Court came to a conclusion that the enquiry was perverse and set-aside the termination order.”
Following which it held “In my considered opinion it is not open for the labour Court to change its position as regards the fairness or otherwise of the enquiry at the time when the final award passed.”
It added “In the event of the labour court intending to change the finding insofar as the enquiry being fair and proper is concerned, then the labour Court would have to provide an opportunity to the employer to lead evidence to establish the charges alleged against the workman. In the present case, that has not been done.”
Refusing to accept the contention of the workman that a wire had been tied to the limit switch (safety switch) at the instructions of the employer, the bench said “The finding which has been arrived at by the labour Court without an opportunity being provided to the employer, in my considered opinion, is not sustainable.”
Accordingly it allowed the petition.
Case Title: M/s TTK Healthcare Ltd And P V Ravi
Case No: WRIT PETITION NO. 29197 OF 2014
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Kar) 156
Date of Order: 29-03-2023
Appearance: Advocate Somashekar for Advocate S N Murthy Associates for petitioner.
Advocate Avani Chokshi for respondent.
Click Here To Read/Download Order