Supreme Court clarifies pilot’s right to withdraw resignation

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In a recent judgment in the Air India Express Limited v Capt. Gurdarshan Kaur Sandhu, the Supreme Court discussed the rights and limitations of an employee withdrawing the resignation tendered earlier.

Sandhu, who was working as a captain in Air India Charters, submitted her resignation on 3 July 2017 by email. The resignation was accepted and vide letter dated 2 September 2019, she was informed that she would be released after completion of six months of notice period from the date of resignation. However, Sandhu on 18 December 2017 sent an email withdrawing her resignation, which was not accepted by Air India on the ground that after her resignation, another pilot was hired as a commander in her place. Sandhu challenged this action before Kerala High Court, which allowed her plea on the ground it was open for her to withdraw resignation prior to the expiry of the period of notice on 2 January 2018.

The Supreme Court, while interpreting the law regarding prospective resignation, held that normally until the resignation becomes effective, it is open to an employee to withdraw his resignation depending upon the governing service regulations and/or the terms and conditions of the office/post. However, such a prospective resignation cannot be withdrawn in case there is a legal contractual or constitutional bar and also when the employer had made arrangements to make another employee available for the job.

While upholding the stipulation of the notice period, the court held that the stipulation of a mandatory notice period is in the public interest as it would require considerable expenses and efforts to train the replacement. The notice period enables the air transport undertaking or the employer to gear itself up in that direction and obliges it to find a substitute or a replacement. The obligation to find a suitable replacement begins immediately on receipt of the letter of resignation.

Therefore, the court held that Sandhu could not have withdrawn the letter of resignation dated. The court thus allowed this appeal and set aside the judgment passed by Kerala High Court.

The dispute digest is compiled by Bhasin & Co, a corporate law firm based in New Delhi. The authors can be contacted at [email protected]. Readers should not act on the basis of this information without seeking professional legal advice.