This paper aims to sensitize learners to some of the ethical and public relation issues involved in decision-making with specific reference to the educational field.
This case brings out a dilemma faced by the school management of Vidyalaya School, Karnataka, India in responding to a notice issued by the State Government to pay a huge compensation and to re-absorb a teacher who was rendered physically challenged owing to an accident within the school premises. The case is set in the milieu of a self-financed, private education industry during the period 2013-2018. This is a case in “Strategy formulation” and “Ethical dilemma” involved in the field of education in India. A teacher was permanently injured and confined to a wheelchair in an attempt to rescue a child attempting to jump off the school building and end her life for having obtained low marks in a test paper. While the school management was initially sympathetic and paid her medical bills and full salary purely on humanitarian grounds, they discontinued this support-line after about two years. The teacher filed a complaint with the Disability Commission, a grievance redressal body of the Government of Karnataka, India. She demanded re-absorption into the job, payment of salary arrears and reimbursement of all the subsequent medical bills incurred abroad totaling Rs 15.5 million, which is unaffordable for a school of that size. The management is faced with a situation where they cannot accept such a huge financial liability as well as accept a wheelchair-bound teacher who would not be able to discharge her duties. The school was briefed by legal experts that there exists no law that specifies either compensation or re-absorption into the job in a situation like this. At the same time, to fight the case purely on legal grounds and deny her a decent livelihood would impact the image of the school as being inhuman to a lady who had actually tried to help the school in the name of humanity. The management is caught in a dilemma on the course of action they must take – to fight the case legally or to accept the demand on humanitarian grounds.
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This paper is suitable for Undergraduate or Graduate students of Business Management.
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CSS 11: Strategy
CitationMoleyar, J.P. (2019), "Accident at Vidyalaya School – an ethical dilemma", Emerald Emerging Markets Case Studies, Vol. 9 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/EEMCS-05-2019-0103 Download as .RIS
Publisher: Emerald Publishing Limited
It was around 11 a.m. on a hot summer day of 2013 in Kudla, a small town in coastal Southern India. Vidyalaya School, Kudla had taken a routine break from classes for 10 min. Students had come out of their classrooms, most heading towards washrooms.
All of a sudden, a crowd began to gather when Neha, an 8th standard student, was spotted attempting to jump off the top of the building. She was contemplating suicide and was crying profusely, fear etched across her face.
Students began to assemble in the central quadrangle of the school, watching Neha worriedly. Hearing the din and commotion outside, a few faculty members arrived there and tried to convince Neha not to jump. The Principal was alerted, who soon arrived at the scene and started pleading with Neha.
Neha had flawless academic record. She had always topped her class, often with a perfect score. On the day of this incident, she was shocked to see that she had only obtained 94 per cent marks in social studies, which was far below her expectations. Janaki’s low performance had disturbed her so much that she walked up the stairs to the terrace intending to jump off the roof and end her life. Finding herself at the rooftop and looking down from a considerable height, she found herself hesitating and scared of death. There she stood at the edge of the roof, staring at the ground that seemed so far away, trying to muster courage to end her seemingly pointless life.
Amidst this commotion, Janaki, her Science teacher, decided to act quickly. She, of her own volition, climbed up the terrace and stealthily approached Neha from behind. She then grabbed and dragged her back to safety. Neha wriggled to get free. During the struggle, Janaki accidentally slipped and fell. No sooner had she landed with a ‘thud’ than a group of teachers made it to the rooftop and rescued Neha out of harm’s way.
The fall had resulted in a severe injury to Janaki’s spinal cord, and she was wailing in pain. The group of teachers who were around immediately lifted her, put her in one of their private cars and dashed her to a nearby hospital for emergency treatment. All this happened in a matter of minutes, and the School Management was brought into the loop much later.
The School Management visited the hospital regularly, took care of all her needs during her week’s stay in the hospital and paid for all the medical expenses. Janaki’s injury was very severe, and she was permanently stuck to a wheelchair with 90 per cent disability. Ever since, she stopped attending school, there was no information from her side about resuming work.
Even though Janaki never attended the school after the unfortunate incident, the School Management continued to pay her salary purely on humanitarian grounds. In 2015, however, after having done so for over two full years, the Management stopped paying her salary. There was no reaction from Janaki over this stoppage of salary and the management heard later on that Janaki subsequently went abroad looking for better treatment. Janaki neither informed the Management about this move nor made any financial claim even at that stage. The treatment abroad was neither recommended by domestic doctors nor was it warranted. It didn’t yield any positive results, the management heard later.
Three years later, in the year 2018, the School Management received a notice under the Rights of People with Disabilities Act, 2016 (Government of India, Ministry of Labour and Employment, 2019b) from the Office of the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Government of Karnataka based on a complaint by the teacher, leveling the following charges against them:
The Management had neither provided any first-aid, nor taken her to a hospital when Janaki got injured at school.
The Management had not paid the medical fees incurred for her treatment abroad, amounting to Rs. 14,000,000.
The Management had removed a physically disabled employee from the school, even when the accident leading to the disability had happened while on duty and in an attempt to save a student’s life.
The Management was directed to appear before the authorities and explain their stand on the matter. They were also directed to take the disabled employee back on duty and pay her all the arrears and dues for the past period as well as the medical bills abroad.
They were quite surprised to receive such a claim because they did take care of Janaki as soon they came to know about the accident and paid medical bills, salary for two years, and provided moral support as well. Issue of First-aid does not arise because she was immediately shifted to the nearest hospital by her own colleagues even before the management was informed about it.
They also believed that there wasn’t any specific law that required the management to pay compensation of any sort. RPWD Act, 2016 under which the present notice was issued(or its original form Government of India, Ministry of Labour and Employment (2019a), which indeed is more appropriate in this case considering the time the incident took place) by itself doesn’t speak about any compensation to be given to employees in case of an accident. The Act, inter alia, talks about discrimination against the disabled. The State Commissioner for persons with disabilities is a quasi-judicial position which handles grievances from the aggrieved and tries to arbitrage between the two parties. The Act does not have any provisions to seek compensation but could only be used as an administrative mechanism for grievance redressal by the aggrieved. The Commissioner’s rulings are also not final and could be subsequently challenged in a court of Law.
Legal experts had advised the management quite early in the case that the only possible Act that talks about compensation to employees upon accidents while at work, is Workmen Compensation Act, 1923 but it is applicable only to‘Workmen’, the definition of which doesn’t include teachers. There are enough case laws to this effect, and it is amply clarified in a land mark judgment by the Supreme Court of India in A. Sundarambal vs Government of Goa, Daman and Diu on 27 July 1988 and in many more subsequent cases.Workmen, by definition includes employees who use skilled or unskilled manual work, supervisory work, technical work or clerical work. While it is true that Workmen compensation Act has undergone revision and has expanded its scope to cover all employees and is now called the Employees compensation Act 2016, such a revision has taken place only in 2016, three years after the current incident and therefore is not applicable to this case.
Both the Acts clearly stipulate that compensation is payable to workmen if the injury is caused to a workman/employee by accident ‘arising out of and in the course of his employment’. Janaki was employed only to teach and not go up the terrace and engage in risky and uncalled for acts even if it was for saving life of a child. Going on the rooftop and trying to grab a child was an unsafe act performed by her on her own volition without even the knowledge or specific instruction of the school management.
Also, the Act itself stipulates a period of two years within which such compensation must be sought barring which under the Law of limitation the claimant loses his/her right to do so. In this case, the claimant raised her claim after a gap of five years.
The School management had already spent about Rs 500,000 on treatment at the local hospital and paid her full salary for about two years of Rs 800,000 as well, amounting to Rs 1,300,000. The management is now worried about the salary claim for 4 more years of about Rs 1,500,000 and the cost of treatment abroad which was another US$2,00,000 (Rs 14,000,000) the veracity of which is yet to be established. Notwithstanding the school’s apprehensions about the genuineness of the expenses abroad, the grand total amounts to Rs 15,500,000 to be paid upfront if her claim has to be accepted. All this liability for a school which has gross receipts per annum of only about Rs 25,000,000!! The school cannot afford such a claim.
As regards taking her back on rolls, the management was very clear that a physically challenged Janaki would not be efficient in teaching. She had succumbed 90 per cent disability and was permanently confined to a wheelchair and could not perform any basic duty without the help of an assistant. That being the case, it would be quite impossible for her to attend classes and teach students effectively.
It is also true that Janaki, the teacher stopped attending school on her own and the School management had not taken any action to sack her from her job. On discontinuation of her services, the school subsequently went ahead to recruit another teacher in her place. Janaki’s claim to get back to work which she stopped attending on her own after such a long gap of five years is not legally tenable.
Their legal experts assured the Management that they had enough grounds to fight the case. The School was also satisfied that they had done more than necessary from a humanitarian point of view. Also, they were neither able to accept Janaki’s claim of Rs 15,500,000 which was a huge financial burden on the School nor were they able to take her back on rolls as she was clearly not in a position to perform her duty as a teacher with her present medical condition.
Accordingly, the school started making arrangements to prepare their reply to the commissioner defending their stand to fight the charges leveled against them legally. The management felt it was worth spending an estimated cost of Rs 500,000 on a legal battle, considering the magnitude of claim in hand.
Meanwhile, one of the trust members of the school, a senior retired teacher, advised the management to reconsider their stand on the matter and tread carefully. He warned them to be sensitive to the sympathy factor Janaki would generate with the students, parents, faculty members, the Press, Government authorities, the judiciary and the society as a whole. Any opposing stand by the management would be seen as being ungrateful to a teacher who lost all the comforts of her life in trying to save a child’s life, and such a legal stand would prove detrimental to the image of the school, crippling them in the long term. The students may resent the decision, the parents may shame them in the Parents-Teachers meetings, the teachers may gang-up against the management, the Press may publish negative reports, the NGOs may campaign against the school, the Government and the Judiciary may be extra-sympathetic to the aggrieved and the society as a whole will be on her side.
He advised the Management to tread carefully keeping the emotional and sentimental angle in mind and the subsequent long term harm it could do to the school.
The Management was now in a dilemma about their course of action.
What course of action do you recommend to the management and why?
All names of persons/school and location in this case are fictitious to hide the identity of the real persons/school and location.
Vidyalaya School is a private school in Kudla, a small town in India. It has about 3,000 students studying from 1st to 10th standard. Private individuals fund private schools without any financial support from the Government. Their only source of income is in the form of fees paid by the students, which makes these schools more expensive for the student than Government schools which run on government grants. However, these private schools are bound by Government regulations in terms of syllabus, examinations, issuing certificates and also in terms of employee salaries, work rules, compensation, etc.
Office of the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Government of Karnataka is a quasi-judicial body dedicated to the service of specially abled people. Their activities include legal assistance to persons with disabilities, Grievance redressal of persons with disabilities regarding violation of rights, quasi-judicial functions of the court regarding violation of rights, steps to ensure education, employment, non-discrimination, research and man-power development, social security, recognition of institutions for persons with disabilities, steps to ensure identification of posts to be reserved for persons with disabilities in various departments of the state government, submission of annual reports to the state government, etc.
Miss A. Sundarambal vs. Government of Goa, Daman And Diu on 27 July 1988 Equivalent citations: JT 1987 (2) 101Author: A Sen Bench: Sen, A.P. (J)Held: 1.1 Even though an educational institution has to be treated as an industry the teachers employed by educational institutions whether the said institutions are imparting primary, secondary, graduate or post graduate education cannot be called as 'workmen' within the meaning of section 2(s) of the Act. Imparting of education which is the main function of teachers cannot be considered as skilled or unskilled manual work or supervisory work or technical work or clerical work. Imparting of education is in the nature of a mission or a noble vocation. A teacher educates children; he moulds their character, builds up their personality and makes them fit to become responsible citizens. Children grow under the care of teachers. The clerical work, if any they may do, is only incidental to their principal work of teaching. [608B-C; 610A-C] 605
Section 3 of the Employee’s Compensation Act, 1923 stipulates Employer’s liability for compensation. – (1) If personal injury is caused to a an 3[employee] by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment, his employer shall be liable to pay compensation in accordance with the provisions of this Chapter.
Section 10 of the Employee’s Compensation Act 1923 covers: Notice and claim. – (1) 3[No claim for compensation shall be entertained by a Commissioner unless notice of the accident has been given in the manner hereinafter provided as soon as practicable after the happening thereof and unless the claim is preferred before him within [two years] of the occurrence of the accident or, in case of death, within [two years] from the date of death:].
Gregg Learning (2018) “Ethics and strategy”, Video File, 18 September, available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=2trdgy5jG4M
Government of India, Ministry of Labour and employment (2019a) “Persons with disabilities act, 1995”, available at: http://niepmd.tn.nic.in/documents/PWD%20ACT.pdf
Government of India, Ministry of Labour and employment (2019b), “Rights of persons with disabilities act, 2016”, available at: www.disabilityaffairs.gov.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/RPWD%20ACT%202016.pdf
Association of American educators (2019), “Code of ethics for educators”, available at: www.aaeteachers.org/index.php/about-us/aae-code-of-ethics
Ferrel, F. and Ferrel, O.C. (2017), Business Ethics – Ethical Decision Making and Cases, 9th edition, Cengage Learning India, New Delhi.
Government of India, Ministry of Labour and employment (2019c), “Worker’s compensation act, 1923”, PDF file. available at: https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/EC%20Act.pdf
Government of India, Ministry of Labour and employment (2019d), “Employee’s compensation act, 1923”, [as amended through EC (Amendment) Act, 2017] [PDF file], available at: https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/EC%20Act_0.pdf
Sharma, R.N. and Sharma, R.K. (2004), “History of education in India”, available at: books.google.com
Disclaimer. This case is written solely for educational purposes and is not intended to represent successful or unsuccessful managerial decision-making. The authors may have disguised names; financial and other recognizable information to protect confidentiality.
About the author
Jayadeva Prasad Moleyar is based at the Department of Management Studies, Mangalore Institute of Technology and Engineering, Moodabidre, India.