Suicide by Employees and Liability of Employer

The past decade has seen a significant rise in incidents of employee suicides.With the rising levels of workplace stress, the employers, namely the Management of Companies are being increasingly blamed by either the employee himself or his family members, for abetting the employee to take such a drastic step.

In cases of employees committing suicide allegedly owing to work reasons, the effect may be severely magnified, especially for the Management/Employer against whom, in most cases, the family members of the deceased retaliate by instituting an FIR for offences under Section 306 (Abetment of Suicide) read with Section 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

With such increasing number of cases wherein the Management is, time and again, being accused of abetting employment suicides, the accused namely, the Employer/Management can proceed by inviting the jurisdiction of the Hon’ble High Court under Article 227 of the Constitution of India and Section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code. Below mentioned are a few substantial facts that need to be ascertained based on which quashing of FIR can be sought:

  • The allegations of harassment and torture caused to the deceased by the Employer/Management need to be satisfactorily founded and substantiated.
  • Sufficient evidence must be put on record to show the existence of dispute between the Employer/Management and the deceased employee. If yes, then it is essential to note if the employee, in light of such dispute, had approached any legal forum against the Management to seek redressal of such alleged grievance.
  • The most crucial aspect that requires thorough assessment is whether the actions of the Employer/Management did in fact amount to abetment.

Existence of Abetment:

For the actions of the Employer/Management to amount to abetment, the existence of mens rea or common intention is imperative. Abetment implies an intentional abetment. There can be no abetment if the mens rea is missing.

The concept of ‘abetment’ in the context of abetment of suicide, (punishable under section 306 of the IPC), has been discussed on several occasions over the years, by both, the High Court as well as by the Apex Court, reference to a few of which would enable us to clarify the legal position:

Manish Kumar Sharma Vs. State of Rajasthan, 1995 Criminal Law Journal 3066,

It was alleged by the prosecution in this case that the accused-petitioner had advanced some money to the victim Kusum Devi and that there were frequent quarrels between the said accused. It was further alleged that the said Kusum Devi was therefore leading a very stressful life, which was accentuated on account of persistent demands made by the accused in respect of money. On the fateful day, the accused allegedly, demanded his money back and even threatened to kill her; whereupon Kusum Devi committed suicide after consuming some tablets of poisonous nature. After carefully considering the legal position and the concept of ‘abetment’, the Hon’ble High Court of Rajasthan held that the based on the outburst of the accused, it could not be said that accused-petitioner wanted, or intended, Kusum Devi to commit suicide. There was no evidence to suggest or indicate that the accused knew or had reason to believe that Kusum Devi would commit suicide. Based on the facts and circumstances of the case, the Court held that it is extremely doubtful if all the circumstances taken cumulatively could indicate any mens rea on the part of the accused-petitioner. The Court found is no evidence to suggest or indicate that the accused-petitioner knew or had reason to believe that Smt. Kusum Devi had purchased tablets of salphos and would contemplate or commit suicide.

The Court went on to opine that the accused could not have even remotely thought that Smt. Kusum Devi would commit suicide or would put an end to her life. Whatever the accused-petitioner is said to have uttered to Smt. Kusum Devi was at best an out-burst of an angry mind. It was not calculated or designed to instigate Smt. Kusum Devi to put an end to her life by committing suicide. The totality of the evidence, whether read collectively or dis-jointly is not enough to bring out a case of instigating, aiding or illegal omission against the accused-petitioner with the requisite criminal intent or mens rea.

Madan Mohan Singh Vs. State of Gujarat (2010)8 SCC 628

It was observed by the Apex Court in this case as follows : In order to bring out an offence under section 306 IPC, specific abetment as contemplated by section 107 IPC on the part of the accused with an intention to bring about the suicide of the person concerned as a result of that abetment is required. The intention of the accused to aid or to instigate or to abet the deceased to commit suicide is a must for this particular offence under section 306 IPC.

  • The statements and supporting evidence produced against the accused must prima-facie make out the ingredients of Section 306 of IPC so as to constitute an offence punishable under the Section
  • The accused against whom the FIR has been initiated must be shown to be responsible for the death of the employee i.e. either directly or indirectly. The evidence must necessarily show that a direct or indirect act of incitement by the Management has led to the commission of suicide.
  • If the death of deceased was not the direct result of the conflict between the Management and deceased, then the ingredients to constitute abetment will be satisfactorily made out
  • The prosecution must specifically describe and prove the existence of any specific act/s or incidence/s whereby the accused have committed any willful act or omission so as to intentionally aid or instigate the employee in taking such a step.
  • The allegations of offence of being committed by the accused in furtherance of their common intention need to be substantiated by showing the role of each of the accused in commission of the offence and how they could have colluded to commit the offence against the deceased.
  • Another crucial element of evidence showing the association between the act of suicide by the deceased and his relationship with the accused, is existence of any suicide note by the deceased explaining the reasons that led to his committing suicide. In the absence of the same, or any document of similar nature, mere hearsay evidence of the family members of the deceased do not add much value to the case. In the absence of all or any of the above, the basis on which the case of the prosecution is founded becomes baseless by failing to confirm the existence of the ingredients under Section 306 read with section 34 of IPC.