The Supreme Court observed that a person in the employment of any company cannot dictate terms of his employment to his employer and that the view of the competent authority within the organization prevails.

The Court observed thus in an appeal filed by Bharti Airtel Limited against the judgment of the Karnataka High Court by which it dismissed the appeal of the company which was occasioned on account of the Single Judge partly allowing the writ petition of the employee.

The two-Judge Bench comprising Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah held, “Though much emphasis was laid by the respondent on his claim that his resignation was forced, this Court is not persuaded to accept such a contention, basically on the ground that the language employed by the respondent in his resignation letter is to the effect that he was submitting his resignation, which may be approved, keeping the interest of his family and career and also that with utmost feeling of humiliation and insult he was submitting such resignation. It further indicates that over the six months preceding his resignation, he felt that he had been subjected to unfair rating, which indicates his disillusionment and dissatisfaction, while working for the Company. Pausing here, the Court would indicate that a person, in the employment of any company, cannot dictate terms of his employment to his employer. He has channels of venting her/his grievances but ultimately, it is the view of the competent authority within the organisation that will prevail with regard to his appraisal/rating.”

Senior Advocate C. U. Singh appeared on behalf of the appellant while the respondent, A.S. Raghavendra appeared in person.

Brief Facts -

The respondent employee upon being interviewed by the appellant company’s concerned officials was appointed as the Regional Business Head (South) in 2009 and the package for the same was Rs. 22 lakhs with fixed pay of Rs. 13,20,000/- and variable pay of Rs. 8,80,000/-. The employee was heading a team comprising four Account Managers for different States. In 2011, he made an initial resignation request on the internal system which was accepted by the company and in terms thereof, he was paid Rs. 5,92,538/- in full and final settlement of all his claims. After about 19 months, he filed a petition before the Deputy Labour Commissioner alleging his resignation to be a forceful one, which resulted in initiation of conciliation proceedings but ended in failure.

In 2013, the State Government referred the dispute to the Labour Court under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. In 2017, the Labour Court made its award and held that the employee failed to plead or prove that he was a “workman” and that he was performing the role of a Manager. Aggrieved by this, the employee filed a writ petition before the High Court and the Single Judge partly allowed the same, holding that he was a “workman”. The Single Judge set aside the award and remanded the matter to the Labour Court for adjudication. Being aggrieved, the company filed an appeal before the Division Bench but the same was dismissed and hence, it approached the Apex Court.

The Supreme Court in view of the facts and circumstances of the case noted, “… in our considered view, mere absence of power to appoint, dismiss or hold disciplinary inquiries against other employees, would not and could not be the sole criterion to determine such an issue. Holding otherwise would lead to incongruous consequences, as the same would, illustratively, mean that, employees in high-ranking positions but without powers to appoint, dismiss or hold disciplinary enquiry would be included under the umbrella of “workman” under Section 2(s), ID Act. We cannot be oblivious of the impact of our decisions.”

The Court further said that there must be a level of infirmity greater than ordinary in a Tribunal’s order, which is facing judicial scrutiny before the High Court, to justify interference but such a situation did not prevail in this case. It noted that the phraseology, “not of his free will” would not mean that it was forced upon him by the Company.

“Rather, what can be gathered from the materials on record and the orders of the fora below, is that the resignation was more out of a sense of being unfairly rated by the appellant. From the material available, it also transpires that the respondent had made a complaint to the Ombudsman pertaining to his unfair rating. Needless to point out, it would be far-fetched for the Court to assume that the entire organisation i.e., the Company would be against one individual (the respondent) and that a person of such high calibre and quality, who could deliver so much to the Company, would be forced to put in his papers”, it added.

The Court also observed that there is no direct allegation of any bias against or victimisation of the respondent as he himself has stated as also written to various persons venting his grievances and only because things did not turn out the way he wanted them to, or for that his grievances were not adequately or appropriately addressed, cannot lead to the presumption that the resignation was forced upon him by the company.

“One way to label the respondent’s resignation as “forced” would be to attribute the compulsion to the respondent, rather than factors relating to the Company and/or its management. In other words, it can be termed a result of feeling suffocated due to lack of proper appreciation and not being given his rightful due that led to the chain of events supra, rather than by way of any arbitrariness or high-handedness on the part of the appellant. Bearing due regard to the nature of duties performed by the respondent, we are satisfied that the same do not entail him being placed under the cover of Section 2(s), ID Act”, it concluded.

The Court, therefore, held that the respondent is not a “workman” and thus, reference to the Labour Court against the appellant will not be maintainable.

Accordingly, the Apex Court allowed the appeal, set aside the judgment of the Single Judge, and restored the judgment of the Labour Court.

Cause Title- M/s Bharti Airtel Limited v. A.S. Raghavendra (Neutral Citation: 2024 INSC 265)


Appellant: Senior Advocate C. U. Singh and AOR Vatsalya Vigya.

Respondent: Respondent-in-person

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