‘Disciplinary action at work against mentally ill employee is discrimination’: SC

The bench sympathised with the CRPF officer who had developed mental health issues due to his postings at areas of insurgency for a decade

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The Supreme Court has said that disciplinary action taken at the workplace against employees with mental disabilities is an act of indirect discrimination. The bench headed by Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath observed that a person suffering from a disability is protected under the Right of Persons with Disability (RPwD) Act if his/her disability is used as an excuse to discriminate against him/her. RPwD isn’t exclusive to only people with mental disorders, other forms of discrimination against those with disabilities is covered under it.

The court was hearing an appeal against an assistant commandant Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) who was facing disciplinary proceedings after he used bad language, made appearances on television and other media without the approval of the department, tried to cause an accident and physically assaulted a deputy commandant in 2010. The officer had reasoned that he developed mental health issues after being posted in areas where anti-insurgency operations had taken place between 2003 and 2013. His plea was countered by CRPF saying that people don’t develop mental issues because of exposure to insurgency.

There are a lot of other officers posted in areas of insurgency who are not mental health patients, it maintained.

A person with mental disability will not be able to perform as per the standards set out for the able-bodied people at the workplace, said the Supreme Court. As a result, the person who is suffering from disproportionate disadvantage due to mental illness is likely to be subjected to disciplinary proceedings. Thus, the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against people with mental disability is an act of discrimination against them.

Often, the process of disciplinary proceedings becomes a punishment for the person, the court further stated. And since the stigma against people with mental disorders continues to exist in the country, it’s the courts’ responsibility to ensure that the societal discrimination doesn’t get transformed into legal discrimination.

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