Diktat states that widowed 32-year-old, who claimed she was forced to quit despite a strong work record, should be re-hired and given full wages for the time she was made redundant

Two years after she was dismissed from her job at a pharmaceutical firm after a medical report mentioned that she was HIV+, a 32-year-old woman is looking at some semblance of justice. The labour court has directed the Hinjawadi-based company to pay her full wages for the years she lost out on work, restore her job and give her additional benefits.

The woman hails from Kolhapur, completed junior college and got married in May 2002. Afterwards, she and her husband moved to Pune. In 2004, her husband was diagnosed with HIV and died in September 2006. Meanwhile, the woman underwent a medical check-up and found that she, too, had contracted the disease. Neither her in-laws or her parents wanted anything to do with her once this was revealed.

But, she was determined to carry on with her life. She underwent medical tests and counselling from the government and from various NGOs where she was advised that since the disease carries major stigma in society, there was no need for her to disclose her condition unless specifically asked. She was also assured that there was likelihood of a proper cure being discovered soon.

Since she had no major discomfort or visible deformity, she joined a pharmaceutical company in Pune in 2007. Three years later, in 2010, she moved to another pharmaceutical company in Hinjawadi as a junior operator in the production department.

She completed all necessary formalities and underwent the medical check-up and physical fitness tests. The company had a medical insurance policy, of which she was a member.

In the last week of April 2015, the woman had an ear ailment. It grew increasingly severe and she was admitted to a private hospital in Pune, and later, went to Kolhapur for treatment.

She was on leave on medical grounds for almost three months and her leave was sanctioned by the company. She rejoined on July 20, 2015 and had submitted her medical reports for insurance benefits to the human resources (HR) department.

That was where things started going downhill. While going through her reports, the HR personnel noticed that she was HIV+. On August 4, 2015, she was asked to resign.

Claiming it was forceful termination, she filed a case against the company.

Speaking to Mirror, the woman said, “The HR and administration department officials called me to their cabin. Other officials were present, too. They told me clearly that since I am HIV+, the company could not allow me to continue my services. They pressured and coerced me for nearly two hours, though I refused to resign and told them that I am physically and mentally fit. I also explained that I was taking all necessary precautions while working and I was even ready for an alternate job in the housekeeping department as I am in dire need of employment and community support.”

“Throughout my five years of service, I did not get a single memo or notice — my professional record is spotless. The company had even given me an increment. All of this happened suddenly and my pleas went unheeded. I was alone in my battle against the company officials and I finally succumbed,” she added sombrely.

And, her case could not be fought on grounds of sympathy, as advocate Vishal Jadhav, who represented her, pointed out.

“There is no law that sympathises with HIV+ patients. We did not even fight to gain the sympathy of the court. We simply filed all the documentary evidence which showed that she was terminated illegally and only because she was HIV+. The company failed to prove that she had resigned from the job voluntarily or that they had paid her a month’s extra salary on her request, as they claimed. We proved that the resignation which she filed was not a resignation in the eyes of the law,” said Jadhav.

“Her work was satisfactory and she was efficient. She is a widow and depends upon her employment simply so she can live with dignity,” Jadhav added.

The company, however, denied all the allegations.

Advocate NP Noronha, representing the firm, argued that she had resigned due to health reasons. Also, she had already availed of gratuity, bonus, leave and other post-termination benefits. He also submitted that the company officials and staff were already aware of her medical condition.

“The HR department never took cognisance of the fact that she was HIV+. They were only worried for her excess absenteeism,” Noronha submitted.

The company examined five witnesses in support of its claim, but the court did not find them adequate.

Presiding officer of the labour court, Kalpana N Phatangare, stated, “An HIV+ woman, with no means of livelihood other than her job, cannot resign. There is no evidence showing that she was physically unfit and thus made up her mind to resign. On the contrary, the evidence on record shows that she was mentally and physically fit till the date of her alleged resignation. Further, the evidence shows that the company was satisfied with her services. There was no misconduct on her part.”

“It can be said that this was not resignation, but termination on the part of the company. And a firm dealing with medicines and providing them to the world shouldn’t have a taken such a decision and victimised the woman,” Phatangare added.

There is no law that sympathises with HIV+ patients. We filed evidence which showed that she was terminated illegally and only because she was HIV+ — Vishal Jadhav, advocate representing the woman

Pune Mirror