MADURAI: The Madras high court emphasised Thursday the “right to vent” for employees who may have concerns with their management, while quashing a charge memo against a Tamil Nadu Grama Bank employee for posting on WhatsApp critical messages mocking the bank’s administrative decisions.

Justice GR Swaminathan said it’s natural for members of an organisation to have grievances, and allowing them to express can have a “cathartic effect”. However, management intervention should occur only if the organisation’s image is genuinely affected. He underlined that suppressing such expressions would amount to thought-policing and acknowledged that in today’s digitally connected world, principles applicable to private conversations are relevant to encrypted virtual platforms with limited access.
The case revolved around A Lakshminarayanan, an office assistant (multi-purpose) at the Tamil Nadu Grama Bank’s Arumuganeri branch in Tuticorin. Lakshminarayanan, a trade union activist and bank workers’ union office-bearer, faced disciplinary action for his critical WhatsApp post. He challenged the action by filing a petition with the Madurai bench of the high court.

The judge noted that the bank had issued a circular in 2019 to regulate employee conduct on social media. The judge highlighted the potential invasion of privacy because of advanced technology like Pegasus. “Courts may dread such a scenario, but then would still firmly say that charges cannot be framed on the strength of information gleaned through such means,” he said. However, the content shared on end-to-end encrypted platforms should remain within legal boundaries.
Concluding that the petitioner’s WhatsApp messages did not violate the bank’s conduct rules, Justice Swaminathan quashed the charge memo. He highlighted that private criticisms shared in an informal setting would not have been scrutinised if they occurred outside the workplace. The same standard should apply to an exchange “among a group of employees on a virtual platform with restricted access”, the court ruled.

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