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Beat up boss, get the boot

New Delhi, Feb. 23: Workers who beat up their bosses can be sacked, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Upholding the dismissal of two workmen of Dhanbad-based BCCL Ltd for assaulting senior officers in 1983, the court held that 'physical violence' is a 'grave misconduct'. The assault was correctly taken as a serious violation of norms of work and of law, thereby attracting the severest punishment of dismissal, it added.

The workmen's gratuity could also be 'forfeited in its entirety', the judges said.

Violence in the workplace was a big problem in Bengal through the eighties and the early nineties. Although it is much scaled down now, the problem persists, particularly in the tea gardens of north Bengal. Electronics giant Philips first stopped production and then shifted its base to Mumbai after its chairman was beaten up by workers at Salt Lake in 1996. In 1998, the managing director of Bata, Keith Weston, was assaulted by staff at Batanagar.

A division bench of Justices N. Santosh Hegde and S.B. Sinha, which had earlier upheld the dismissal of a workman caught sleeping during office hours, delivered the judgment yesterday.

A pump operator and trammer with BCCL had on May 11, 1983, hit the general manager, H.N. Tripathi, on his head with a lathi, inflicting a 'bleeding injury'. Tripathi had to be admitted to hospital. The duo also assaulted the area manager and a CISF inspector. A showcause notice was issued to them by the management and they were dismissed for misconduct after an inquiry.

But on appeal, the industrial tribunal directed reinstatement. The tribunal said, as punishment, the workmen would not get backwages and ordered permanent stoppage of one increment.

The management went to Patna High Court against this decision. After its appeal was dismissed in the high court, it came to the Supreme Court.

The apex court judges said the lower courts, 'by condoning the act of physical violence, have undermined the discipline of the organisation'.

'Substituting the order of dismissal in such a case with withholding of one increment, in our opinion, is wholly disproportionate to the gravity of misconduct and is unsupportable,' the judges held.

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