Libertatem Magazine

“Dismissal Without Inquiry Is Justified if Employee Did Not Prove Minimum Working Period”: Supreme Court

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This case concerns the dispute relating to the termination of an employee without any disciplinary inquiry.

Brief facts of the case

The Respondent, Smt. Sureshwati was engaged as an Assistant Teacher in Jai Bharat Junior High School, Haridwar (the School) during the period July 1993 to 21.5.1994, subsequently as a Clerk from 1.7.1994. During this period, the School was an unaided private institution. 

Form 24th May 2005, the School started receiving grants-in-aid from the State and came to be governed by Uttaranchal School Education Act, 2006. It is the case of the appellants, the State of Uttarakhand & Ors., that the respondent abandoned the service on getting married, shifted to Dehradun. 

After 9 years, the respondent filed a complaint before the School contending that she had been continuously working up to 07.03.2006. She alleged that on 8th March 2006 her services were illegally retrenched without granting her any hearing, or payment of retrenchment compensation. 

The School through a letter dated 21.08.2006 requested an Additional District Education Officer to conduct an inquiry, in which the respondent’s appointment was found illegal since her father was a member of the managing committee and her mother was chairman employed by the School. The Director of School Education did not mention the name of the respondent in the report of February 2008. 

The respondent filed a complaint before the Labour Commission, which was referred to the Additional Labour Commissioner to determine whether the alleged termination of the services of the workman was proper or valid. Labour Court passed the award in favour of the employee. The award was challenged before the High Court, which remanded the case to the Labour Court to decide the matter de novo following the law. 

On remand, after considering the detailed evidence, gave award against the respondent/ claimant. The respondent on being aggrieved by this award filed a writ petition before the High Court. Thus, the appeal was filed before this Court. 

Observation by the court

The Court heard the Counsel for the parties and perused the record and found that High Court set aside the award of the Labour Court, only because the School did not conduct any disciplinary inquiry. 

The Court observed that where an employer failed to inquire into dismissal or discharge of a workman, it is open for him to justify the action before the Labour Court by leading evidence before it. This was held in the four Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Workmen of the Motipur Sugar Factory Ltd. v. Motipur Sugar Factory, where the Court held that in case the domestic inquiry is not conducted by the employer, then it is open to him to justify the action before the tribunal. The employer will not have the benefit that he would have if the domestic inquiries were conducted. 

Subsequently, in Delhi Cloth and General Mills Co. v. Ludh Budh Singh, the Supreme Court held that, if no domestic inquiry had been held by the management, or if the management does not rely upon any domestic inquiry, then it is entitled to straightway adduce evidence before the Tribunal justifying its action. 

The respondent failed to discharge the onus to prove that she had worked for 240 days in the preceding 12 months before the 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 12 months preceding the date of alleged termination. This was held by the Supreme Court in the case of Bhavnagar Municipal Corpn. V. Jadeja Govubha Chhanubha, that onus to prove is on the employee. 

The decision of the court 

The present appeal was allowed, and judgment of the High Court was set aside.

Case: State of Uttarakhand & Ors. vs. Smt. Sureshwati

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