Former Hewlett Packard India Employee Alleges Whistleblower Retaliation Before Court
HP Inc. and its Indian entity encouraged unethical practices, a whistleblower has alleged before the Delhi High Court.
Aggrieved by alleged ‘illegal and wrongful termination’, a former employee of Hewlett-Packard India Sales Pvt. has approached the Delhi High Court against the company. The complaint has also been filed against the parent entity HP Inc. and 11 other individuals presently in senior management positions in the U.S., Malaysia, Singapore and India. The Delhi High Court has asked all the parties to file their responses within four weeks.
Manoj Kumar Grover has alleged ‘systematic persecution, harassment and victimisation’ by the company and senior management after he complained against certain unethical actions. BloombergQuint has reviewed a copy of the complaint filed before the high court.
In his complaint, Grover has detailed that he was appointed as Zonal Manager Sales - North 1 in 2014. Soon after assuming this role, senior officials at HP India, in collusion with the company’s channel partners, coerced him into certain unethical practices.
Specifically, he has alleged that:
- Superiors in his business vertical and the senior management pressured him to provide bribes to government officials in order for HP India to be selected in projects, bids, and generally to earn higher revenue.
- HP India actively attempted to influence the award of government projects and tenders; for instance supply of HP toners, and contracts with the Ministry of Defence. The malpractices extended to achieve a situation whereby only HP Authorised Channel Partners would be eligible to quote in the bids and tenders.
- The ambit of unethical practices, in violation of Standards of Business Conduct Policy (SBC Policy), was not confined to payment of bribes or corrupt incentives, it was also linked to anti-competitive practices and to allowing transactions in counterfeit equipment and goods by channel partners.
- Complaints to the India entity’s managing director and senior managers yielded no results and led to denial of pay scale of an MG-1 which he was entitled to.
- He approached HP Global’s Ethics and Investigation Department and Chief Human Resource Officer with a proposal to disclose SBC Policy violations in India on the condition that he be protected from any retaliation.
- The Ethics Department appointed Asia Pacific Japan HR Compliance Head to investigate the matter, who ended up involving the India HR Head despite Grover’s request against it. This prompted Grover to write to the company’s board of directors who again directed him to the compliance team. In all of this, his identity was disclosed within the company and request for relocation denied.
- The Ethics Department closed the investigation saying the matter had been addressed. Thereafter, In January this year, he was issued a redeployment notice which stated that his present role had become redundant, he must find a suitable role within HP India within a certain time, failing which his employment will be terminated.
- Between March and May, the company attempted settlement talks, which failed. In June, his employment was terminated.
Grover has claimed before the Delhi High Court that he’s in possession of audio recordings, excel files, screenshots, chats, transaction records that prove his case. He’s asked the court to declare the termination as illegal and direct the company to compensate Rs 31 crore on account of loss of seniority, reputation and employment within the industry, as well as mental harassment.
An HP spokesperson declined to respond to the specific allegations and stated:
HP has a strict anti-retaliation policy, which includes a prohibition on retaliating against employees for reporting misconduct. HP requires its employees, partners and suppliers to adhere to the highest standards of integrity and ethical business conduct. We conduct reviews as needed and take appropriate actions to ensure compliance with our standards, but we don’t comment on specific situations.HP Spokesperson To BloombergQuint
This case brings to the fore the need for a whistleblower protection law for India Inc. In most cases, such complaints are governed by internal policies. While there have been instances of employees blowing the whistle on company practices and alleged retaliation, few cases have landed up in court.
The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014 is only applicable to public servants. The Companies Act, 2013 mandates that a vigil mechanism be set up but it applies to only listed companies, those which accept deposits from public and those which have borrowed money from banks in excess of Rs 50 crore. In these cases, the audit committee is tasked with overseeing the vigil mechanism but the provisions aren’t prescriptive around retaliation situations.
Most recently, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs revised Companies (Auditor’s Report) Order, 2020 or CARO that necessitates all companies to share whistleblower complaints with their auditors, who is required to look into the nature, quantum and manner in which the complaint has been dealt with.