Chennai: Holding that all allegations of sexual harassment in the present day circumstances are to be viewed seriously and all suitable actions both under the criminal law as well as under the Sexual Harassment Act are to be initiated against the persons, who have involved in such offences or misconducts, the Madras high court has quashed an award passed by the Labour Court, directing a management to reinstate an officer, who was allegedly involved in sexual harassment against a trainee woman employee at workplace.
Allowing a petition filed by M/s AE & E Chennai Works (p) Ltd, Chennai, Justice S.M. Subramaniam said the findings of the Labour Court undoubtedly is perverse and contrary to the proved charges against the officer D.Kannan regarding Sexual Harassment. This apart, the award of the Labour Court is communicating a wrong message to the society at large, more specifically, in current day circumstances. “This being the factum, this court has no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that the award of the Labour Court is infirm and legally unsustainable”, the judge added.
According to petitioner, the petitioner was a company engaged in the business of Boiler Fabrication and has a factory at Poonamallee, Chennai. D.Kannan was working as a senior welder in a Supervisory Cadre and a Team of personnel consisting of 12 welders and 5 trainees were working under him. He was a Team leader and was in charge of the work assigned to them. Large number of employees were part of workforce in the factory. While so, the company had received a complaint on April 23, 2010, from a trainee welder woman alleging Sexual Harassment upon her by D.Kannan. Considering the seriousness of the complaint lodged by the woman employee, the company had constituted a committee and after preliminary enquiry, an enquiry officer was appointed. Based on the findings of the Enquiry Committee, a charge memo was issued. Being not satisfied with his reply, a domestic enquiry was held and an enquiry officer was appointed. Despite notices, Kannan did not participate in the enquiry. However, the domestic enquiry was proceeded with and the witnesses were examined including the complainant. Meanwhile, the victim sent a letter to the management stating that she was withdrawing the allegations. Though, she had withdrawn the allegations by her letter dated May 20, 2010, the complainant had appeared before the Enquiry Officer on June 18, 2010 and once again, reiterated the allegations and explained the circumstances, under which she had written the letter withdrawing her complaint. After considering all these aspects, the Enquiry Committee found that the charges against Kannan were proved and based on his report, the company imposed the penalty of termination from services. The dispute was referred to the Labour Court for adjudication. The Labour Court had passed an order for reinstatement with continuity of service and full back wages, the petitioner added.
The judge said on a perusal of the letters sent by the victim, this court was not convinced that the withdrawal of the original complaint made by the complainant was genuine and on certain forced circumstances and on account of the fact that her future marriage life was also involved, she had sent all such letters and in such circumstances, if the high court grant exoneration of the offenders of Sexual Harassment, the same will send a wrong message to the society at large as well as the women employees working in such large establishments will lose their faith in the legal system as well as discipline to be maintained at work places. Even certain confusions or certain letters sent by the complainant subsequently and after deposing the truth before the enquiry officer, this court was of the opinion that those letters cannot be relied upon for the purpose of exonerating the delinquent employees. It was not as if a women employee can give a complaint, depose before the enquiry officer and signed the deposition and thereafter, sent few letters for withdrawal of the complaint or seeking pardon for giving such complaints. “If such behaviour and such course of actions at the instance of the delinquent officials are accepted, then large number of such sexual harassment in work places will end in exoneration and the same would sent a wrong message to the society, more specifically, to the female employees working in various establishments across the country on par with the men in various establishments”, the judge added....