Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bank can’t fire employee for nudity in closed room, Bombay high court observes

An employer cannot question what his employee does inside a closed room, observed Bombay high court recently while restraining State Bank of India from filling a top executive level position.

The bank had terminated the service of its general manager (official language) for "tarnishing its image". Among the allegations was one that instead of attending a conference on September 11-12, 2012, in Chandigarh, he stayed back in the room and "was drinking throughout the day" and that the guest house's caretaker revealed he "was moving inside the room without clothes".

A bench of Justice SJ Vazifdar and Justice KR Shriram heard a petition by Vannadil Balakrishnan, holding a doctorate in Hindi, challenging SBI's action saying he was denied opportunity of hearing. Balakrishnan worked for 23 years with the Central government before joining the bank through direct recruitment on November 16, 2011, on a one-year probation. He was summarily discharged on December 1, 2012.

SBI's advocate Harihar Bhave argued that Balakrishnan "is alcoholic" and "inside the room of the guest house was noticed without his clothes".

The judges observed the act falls within the personal and private right of an individual. "What an employee does within the room is not within the domain of the employer to judge," said Justice Vazifdar.

Balakrishnan's advocates Narendra Bandiwadekar and Himanshu Kode argued that none of this evidence was given to him. "Therefore, it is not simpliciter removal but has a colour of penal nature,'' added Bandiwadekar.

Refuting the allegations, Balakrishan's petition said in August 2012, he suffered from chicken pox. On September 11, 2012, he could not attend the conference because he suffered a stroke of allergy and developed rashes all over his body and face. "Because of allergy and medical condition, the petitioner could not wear a shirt,'' it stated. Also, with severe allergy, he could not have consumed alcohol.

Balakrishnan's petition said there were no complaints against him in the first ten months of service and is part of a conspiracy to throw him out before confirmation. He said the two complaints against him were pseudonymous as no persons exist with those names and designations. On September 5, 2013, the judges posted the matter for final hearing and directed "the post shall not be filled up on permanent basis'' and "any appointment shall be subject to further orders".

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