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COVID-19 Lockdown: Bombay HC allows employers to deduct wages of absentee employees in areas where restrictions are relaxed [Read Order]

The plea challenged MHA's advisory against wage deduction. The High Court declined to intervene, for now, save to clarify that where restrictions have been partially lifted, the wages of absentee workers can be deducted.

Meera Emmanuel

The Bombay High Court on Thursday declined to interfere, for the time-being, in a plea challenging the MHA notification requiring employers to pay their workers their salaries during the period of the COVID-19 lockdown (Align Components Pvt. Ltd., and another Vs. Union of India and others).

The Court declined to interfere, noting that a similar matter is pending before the Supreme Court at present.

Appearing for the petitioners, Advocate TK Prabhakaran told the Court the petitioners were seeking an exemption from paying their workers during this time, given that manufacturing activities have been restricted.

All the same, it was submitted that the petitioners were willing to pay 50% of the gross wages or the minimum rates of wages prescribed under the Minimum Wages Act, whichever is higher.

The Court, however, noted that the Supreme Court on Monday had declined to grant any interim relief in similar matters moved before it, while adjourning the proceedings to after two weeks.

Further, Justice Ravindra V Ghuge, noted that the Kerala High Court has stayed an order issued by the Kerala Government Finance Department to defer the payment of 50% salary.

In this backdrop, the Bombay High Court declined to interfere in the matter for now, stating, "I am of the view that as the Hon'bble Apex Court is dealing with a similar cause of action, I would not be inclined to interfere with the impugned order."

Justice Ghuge added,

"[I] would expect the petitioners to pay the gross monthly wages to the employees, save and except conveyance allowance and food allowance, if being paid on month to month basis in the cases of those workers who are not required to report for duties."

Bombay High Court

Notably, the Court also clarified that in industrial areas where the State of Maharashtra has partially lifted the lockdown, the employers can deduct the wages of employees who fail to report for duty. In this regard, the order records,

"It is clarifed that since the State of Maharashtra has partially lifted the lock down recently in certain industrial areas in the State of Maharashtra, the workers would be expected to report for duties as per the shift schedules subject to adequate protection, from Corona Virus infections, by the employer. In the event such workers voluntarily remain absent, the Management would be at liberty to deduct their wages for their absence subject to the procedure laid down in Law while initiating such action. This would apply even to areas where there may not have been a lock down."
Bombay High Court

The matter has now been posted to be taken up next on May 18 or on the day this Court holds Court hearing thereafter.

The Court added, "the payment of gross wages by these petitioners to the workers, save and except conveyance/food allowance, shall be subject to the result of this petition."

Read the Order:

Align Components Pvt. Ltd., and another Vs. Union of India and others.pdf
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