COVID-19 impacted lives in a way no one had ever imagined. The past year and a half saw the world making a paradigm shift from its traditional usual practices to ones that would not compromise with the well-being of the society. Among the many functions halted by the pandemic, employment was one of the most vital ones. Apart from the essential services, all the other public and private organisations instructed its employees to work remotely. The Ministry of Home Affairs through a circular dated 20th March, 2020 then directed the employers of public/private establishments to not terminate their employees, particularly casual or contractual employees or reduce their wages.
The pandemic has adversely affected everything and business enterprises are not prone to it either. This has resulted in large scale layoffs and a large portion of the population has been rendered unemployed. While at times there is mutual understanding between the employer and the employees, most times the employees find themselves feeble with no alternatives. Hence, knowledge of their rights along with the remedies available in such situations possesses a high degree of importance.
The Government has also brought the Disaster Management Act in its arguments to prevent organisations from letting go of its employees. Along with that, depending upon the nature of the organisation various legal obligations are applicable on them, like –
- Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
- The Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923
- State Shops and Establishments Acts
- Indian Contract Act, 1872 – Contract of Employment/ Service
Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
Workmen employed in establishments falling under the definition of the industry under Section-2(j) of the Act may be either laid off or retrenched. If a workman has been in continuous employment for 240 days in the previous 12 months, he becomes entitled to be treated as a permanent employee. Thus, being compensated becomes his statutory right. If an employer fails to pay the appropriate salaries/wages then the employees can take legal actions to claim the same. Under adverse situations, the Act provides a provision to give the workmen at least 21 days notice prior to making changes in terms of employment. These changes can be regarding the wages, additional allowances, hours of work, leaves, etc. Workman is entitled to 50% of their basic wages, which he would’ve received in ordinary course of employment and dearness allowance in addition to that.
States have formulated and are practicing The Shops and Establishments Act exclusive to their geographical areas. It regulates the employment structures at various MSMEs and provides guidelines relating to notice period in relation to termination or wages to be paid in lieu of notice period. The provisions are not uniform and vary from state to state.
Indian Contract Act, 1872 – Contract of Employment/ Service
The employers and employees enter into a contract after the latter’s selection and prior to the commencement of their tenure. It contains details regarding nature and various terms of employment including salary, job location, and much more. These terms are mutually agreed upon by both the parties. Most commonly the employer also includes the terms relating to notice period on termination of employment or the quantum of compensation in lieu thereof.
In furtherance of seeking relief, the employee can either file a complaint with the State’s Labour Department and go for judicial, arbitration or conciliation proceedings. They can also file a formal complaint with the Human Resource division of the organisation. Both the parties can mutually come together and reach a conclusion with respect to the unpaid wages as well.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, as well as the Ministry of Labour & Employment and Ministry of Corporate Affairs has time and again ensured the workforce of their continued attempts at guaranteeing job security during the pandemic.