Employees cannot be denied the right to vent and express their grievances said the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, as long as it is not done in public. This came up following a petition filed by A Lakshminarayanan, a Group B office assistant (multi-purpose) at Tamil Nadu Grama Bank in Thoothukudi.
Lakshminarayanan had sent a message on a WhatsApp group, which was critical of his superiors. As a result, he was issued a memo and had nearly got fired.
However, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court observed that it is natural for employees to have some issues with their co-workers, or superiors, or even their employers; and that it is a good practice for organisations to allow their employees to express their issues or grievances, as that would only help them vent. As per the Bench, it is not harmful for the organisation to allow the employees to vent as long as it doesn’t tarnish their reputation in any way.
In this particular case, Lakshminarayanan had not gone public with his criticism, and therefore, his criticism could not be considered a misconduct. He had only “vented” within a private WhatsApp Group, which he himself had formed. The Group clearly had restricted access, and therefore, he could not be ‘thought-policed’. Incidentally, Lakshminarayanan holds an office in the Tamil Nadu Grama Bank Workers Union.
As per the Bench, had the exchange taken place in a public place or on a platform that anybody could access, the employee could have been charged with misconduct. The Bench also stated that even groups have privacy rights, just as individuals. So, if the employers plant a mole to get information about groups within the workplace, this could be seen as an unfair labour practice.