Bosses Can’t Be Punished For Suicide of Overburdened Juniors

On 10.04.2019, a software engineer working with a multi-national I.T. Company committed suicide. News Reports suggest that deceased was forced to take such a step owing to stress and harassment at work.

With the rising amount of stress people face in their daily lives apart from the pressure and stress which is derived from their work, some employees who cannot handle such pressure are vulnerable to committing suicide and some even end up their lives because of such work pressure.

However, in a decision by giving reliefs to the bosses /superiors of overburdened juniors, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Vaijnath Kondiba Khandke vs State of Maharashtra [(2018) 7 SCC 781] ruled that a superior in a workplace would not be held responsible if his employee is depressed due to the workload and commits suicide.

The decision was pursuant to reversing an order of the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court. The incident took place when a man working in the Aurangabad office of the Deputy Director of Education in the Maharashtra government committed suicide in August 2017. The original complaint (FIR) was filed by his wife, accusing the superior. In her complaint, she stated that the superior used to give him excess work, requiring him to stay back till late evening. She also alleged that the senior called him for work at odd hours and also on holidays, stopped salary for a month and threatened to stop increment. She claimed her husband remained silent at home and the superior was responsible for his suicide.

The senior officer sought quashing of the FIR filed with the police before the High Court. However, the Hon’ble Bombay High Court stated that even if there was no direct abetment or any intention to drive the victim to commit suicide, still if there were circumstances creating any kind of mental tension for the employee, the superior can be held liable. This view of the High Court was rejected by the Division Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court consisting of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice U. U. Lalit. In their judgment, it was held that the FIR lacks the basic requirements to attract section 306 of IPC, i.e. abetment to suicide and therefore, the superior cannot be held liable.

Ratio laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court: The Apex Court said that the superior cannot be accused of abetment of suicide of the employee, as it cannot be said that the superior allotted the work with a criminal bent of mind, with an intention to harass the employee and cause him to end his life.

Nevertheless, organisations should endeavour to ensure that the atmosphere at workplace in conducive to the growth and progress of the employees rather than employees being bogged down under stress and anxiety.

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