Dismissal despite acquittal upheld
Even if a criminal court acquits an employee from the charge of theft in the establishment, he can still be dismissed after a domestic probe, the Supreme Court ruled in its judgment in BHEL vs M Mani. They are separate proceedings, the apex court said. In this case, two employees of the public sector undertaking were accused of theft of heavy machinery from the plant in Ranipet, Tamil Nadu. They allegedly made off with the machinery during the night shift, taking it away in an ambulance parked at the gate. The employees were dismissed after a probe. They challenged the dismissal on several grounds before the labour court. It reinstated the employees with continuity of service observing that the management should have waited for the verdict of the magistrate’s court, which was dealing with the theft case. The probe should not have been held till the result of the criminal case was known. Meanwhile, the magistrate’s court acquitted them of the charge. On appeal by the company, the Madras High Court was divided on the issue with the single judge bench quashing the labour court order, and on appeal the division bench approving it. Therefore, the management appealed to the SC. It set aside the judgment of the division bench, observing that the dismissal was not based on the order of the criminal court. It was the result of the independent probe. If the dismissal was as a result of conviction, the situation would have been different and the punishment could have been upheld, the SC clarified.