No “break in service” When Probationer Takes Maternity Leave: High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh 

Employers are in violation of Articles 14 and 16 of the Indian Constitution when they treat the maternity leave period as a “break-in service,” according to the ruling of the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, which was made up of Hon. Justice Sanjeev Kumar.

Synopsis of the Case:

Six Banking Associates have expressed concerns about the Respondent Bank’s classification of their maternity leave as a “break in service” and claim that this renders them ineligible for advancement to the Assistant Manager Cadre via the “Seniority-cum-Normal/Screening Channel.” Throughout their probationary period, the Bank permitted maternity leave. On the other hand, the Petitioners were informed that doing so would mean a longer probationary period and a lower ranking than their fellow batch members. After a probationary period of six months, the batchmates were officially confirmed as bank employees. Qualified Banking Associates were invited by the bank to apply through the People System for promotions. The Petitioners were only shown to be eligible under the “Fast Track cum-Normal/Screening Channel,” as the eligibility period for the “Seniority-cum-Normal/Screening Channel” was three years.

The petitioner’s contentions:

The petitioners claim that Articles 14 and 16 of the Indian Constitution are violated by the respondent Bank’s decision to not count maternity leave as a “break in service.” They contend that the decision violated the equality principle and exposed the petitioners to hostile discrimination on the basis of their gender. Additionally, they argue that the J&K Bank Officers Service Manual, 2000 does not allow for these kinds of breaks in service, making the bank’s decision to exclude maternity leave from the petitioners’ tenure as Banking Associates when calculating their eligibility for promotion to the Assistant Manager Cadre illegal.

Respondent’s points of contention:

In their opposition to the writ petition, the Respondent Bank stated that maternity leave should not be counted toward the seven years of regular service needed for promotion through the “Seniority-cum-Normal/Screening Channel” during probation because it is not regarded as regular service in the BAS cadre.

Court’s Observation:

The Policy for Promotion of Workmen, which outlines the requirements and eligibility for promotion from Banking Associate to Assistant General Manager Cadre (JMGS-I) Officer Cadre, governs the Bank’s policy for promoting Banking Associates to Assistant Manager Cadre. Up to three promotions via the Fast Track/Merit channel are available to all Banking Associates who, as of March 31 of the previous fiscal year, had satisfactorily completed three years of regular employment. Despite having taken maternity leave for varied periods of time during their probation, the petitioners contend that they are entitled to take part in the Seniority-cum-Selectivity Channel promotion process.

The Court’s Decision:

The Respondent Bank’s decision to withhold leave during probation while taking into account a Banking Associate’s seven years of service in order to promote them under the Seniority cum Selectivity Channel is unlawful, capricious, and in violation of Articles 14 and 16 of the Indian Constitution. These requirements are not mentioned in the Bank’s Policy for Workmen’s Promotion. With more than seven years of actual service, the petitioner is eligible to take part in the Seniority cum Selectivity Channel promotion process for JMGS Scale-I Officers Cadre.

Shafakat and Ors. vs. Jammu and Kashmir Bank and Ors.

WP(C) 3100/2023, CM (7377/2023)

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