Termination of Employees During Lockdown

The Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India along with the State Governments of several states have issued Advisories/Office Memorandums, from time to time directing private employers, not to terminate their employees, especially contractual workers, during the period of lockdown in view of this unprecedented crisis.

In this regard, news reports dated 25th of April 2020 suggest that a prominent B2B commerce start-up has laid off over 2,000 contractual employees across different business roles. Information has also surfaced that several IT Companies have already issued pink-slips across their workforce hierarchy to bear the economic hardship during this crisis. Not only the IT or e-commerce industry but every sector, especially MSME’s which operate on marginal profits, have resorted to some or the other measures to ensure the survival of businesses.

It would be pertinent to note here that The National Information Technology Employees Sena (NITES), an Employees Union working for the welfare and benefits of IT/ITES/BPO/KPO employees has approached the Hon’ble Supreme Court with a Petition against the termination of employees during these testing times. The Petitioners challenge “termination of employees” on the ground of being in violation of Article 14, 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Indian Constitution and pose the important question of “whether a balance has to be drawn between private contractual rights/obligations and public policy, in a pandemic situation”.

On the same lines, another PIL has been filed before the Hon’ble Madras High Court against arbitrary issuance of termination notices, sending workers and employees on indefinite unpaid leave thereby depriving them of salary and forcefully making employees resign.

In this regard, it is imperative for the Judiciary to ensure a balance between viability of businesses running on meagre margins and the situation of employees working in private sector, while deciding these Petitions.