Dharma of Employment (व्यवसायधर्मः)

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Dharma of Employment (Samskrit: व्यवसायधर्मः) refers to the code of conduct to be followed by an employer towards the employee and vice versa.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction[1]

Dharma regulates the conduct of all individuals in every sphere of human activity. One such aspect is the rules to be observed by both employers and the employees. These were a part of Raja dharma (Constitutional Law) and Vyavahara dharma (Law on various other topics) and applied to both government and private employment. There were almost eighteen major topics of law which were in force at the earliest point of time. Two of them laid down the Dharma of Employers and Employees. Namely,

  • Swamipala Vivada ie. disputes between master and servant
  • Vetana dana ie. payment of wages

This law was expanded further from time to time as and when the situation demanded. Shukraniti contains several provisions which prescribe the duties of the employers towards employees and vice-versa.

व्यवसायस्य मूलतत्त्वे ॥ Salient Principles of Employment

Two core principles governed the basic philosophy in the relationship between employers and employees. They were,

  1. The right to perform one's duty.
  2. Happiness of all.

कर्तव्याधिकारः ॥ Right to perform one's duty

Both, the employer and the employee were given the right to perform their duty. Wherein, the employers were required to discharge their obligations towards their employees and the employees were required to discharge their duty towards the employers. This Dharmic ideal endeavoured to establish a duty-based society. Its postulate was not only the duty of the individual towards the society but also the duty of the society towards the individuals through political, commercial and other organisations. The ancient thinkers of Bharata had clearly identified the mark of distinction in the approach to life in this land of Bharata and have recorded it in Vishnu Purana.

The stress was on the duty of an individual towards others (selflessness) and not on the right to fulfill selfish desires. This is also evident from the time-honoured statement in the Bhagavad Gita which declared[1],

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते |[2] karmaṇyevādhikāraste |

Meaning: Your right is to perform your duty.

Every individual was asked to be Dharma-abiding and discharge one's duty towards the society so that all would live happily. The duty of the State as laid down in Raja dharma was to ensure that everyone conforms to Dharma.

सर्वे जनाः सुखिनो भवन्तु ॥ Happiness of all.

Another distinctive feature of the basic philosophy governing the relationship between the employer and the employee was rejection of the principle of "the greatest good of the greatest number". According to this principle, to secure the good of a large number of people, injustice could be caused to a small number of people. As against that, the ideal laid down in the Bharatiya Parampara was that of,

सर्वे जनाः सुखिनो भवन्तु | sarve janāḥ sukhino bhavantu |

Meaning: Everyone should be happy.

The rules of Dharma prescribed that the conduct of employers should be such as would secure justice and happiness to the employees and the conduct of the employees should be such as would not cause any hardship or injustice to the employers. Thus, the principle of class co-operation was adopted in preference to class conflict.[1]

धर्माधारितः व्यवसायः ॥ Dharma Based Employment

The rules that regulated the conduct of employers and employees flowed from the basic rules of Dharma, the observance of which was regarded as essential for the sustenance and welfare of the individual and the society. These basic rules of Dharma were declared in various works on Dharma Shastra and Smrtis. The Shanti Parva in the Mahabharata has indicated nine basic aspects of Dharma. It says[1],

अक्रोधः सत्यवचनं संविभागः क्षमा तथा । प्रजनं स्वेषु दारेषु शौचमद्रोह एव च || आर्जवं भृत्यभरणं त एते सार्ववर्णिकाः।[3]

akrodhaḥ satyavacanaṁ saṁvibhāgaḥ kṣamā tathā। prajanaṁ sveṣu dāreṣu śaucamadroha eva ca || ārjavaṁ bhr̥tyabharaṇaṁ ta ete sārvavarṇikāḥ।

Meaning: The nine rules of Dharma to be followed by persons belonging to all sections of society are

  1. अक्रोध: | akrodhaḥ - Being free from anger
  2. सत्यवचनम् | satyavacanam - Truthfulness
  3. संविभागः | saṁvibhāgaśca - Sharing one's wealth with others
  4. क्षमा | kṣamā - Forgiveness
  5. प्रजनम् | prajanam - Procreation of children from ones wife alone
  6. शौचम् | śaucam - Purity (in thought, word and deed)
  7. अद्रोहः | adrohaḥ - Not betraying the trust or confidence reposed
  8. आर्जवम् | ārjavam - Absence of enmity
  9. भृत्यभरणम् | bhr̥tyabharaṇam - Maintaining the persons dependent on oneself

Five of these, namely, Samvibhaga, Akrodha, Kshama, Shaucha and Adroha are extremely relevant in the context of the employer-employee relationship. They can be called the five fundamental codes of conduct in this regard, the observance of which will do good both to the employers and to the employees by securing their happiness and welfare.   

संविभागः ॥ Samvibhaga

The principle of "Samvibhaga", entails that the employers share the profit arising out of running any industry or business with the employees. An employer runs his business, trade or industry with the help of the employees. Therefore, it is stated that they should be given a reasonable share in the profit earned.

Also, it is a matter of common knowledge that only when the employees see that the employers are indulging in extravagant and wasteful expenditure, while denying a reasonable share of profit to the employees, the industrial unrest begins. Therefore, in the light of the principle of Samvibhaga, if the employers appropriate only a reasonable portion of the profit for themselves and distribute rest of the profit among the employees, the relationship between the two would be cordial. It would also promote a sense of gratitude among the employees towards the employers, which in turn increases the output of work both in quality and quantity. This is evident in certain industries or business or trade where employers look after their employees as their own children with love and affection and give a reasonable share in the profit to them. Therefore, the principle of Samvibhaga constituted the fundamental Dharma to be observed by the employers towards their employees.

अक्रोध: ॥ Akrodha

Akrodha means 'to be free from anger'. Many a times, human beings commit actions on account of anger that may result in irreparable loss and injury; causing misery to both the doer and the receiver. This general rule applies to the relationship of employers and employees as well.

There are many instances in which anger exhibited frequently without justification and disproportionate to the situation by the employers against the employees strain their relationship. This gives rise to an experience of humiliation within the employees that overrides their desire to work with devotion. Thus, unjustified and disproportionate anger is also one of the causes for industrial unrest. Therefore, the principle of Akrodha warns employers against uncontrolled anger. It enjoins that even when an employee commits mistake, the employer's anger should not cross reasonable limits. And this guideline equally applies to employees as well.

क्षमा ॥ Kshama

Kshama or forgiveness is another important quality to be nurtured in the relationship between an Employer and the Employee. Employees, like other human beings, are bound to err or even be guilty of misconduct. Therefore, it is essential for the employer to excuse the employees for bonafide errors or mistakes and to impose only just punishment, when they have acted unjustly. It ensues from the understanding that the quantum of penalty must be in proportion to the gravity of the misconduct. Therefore, only in cases where the misconduct is grave that the maximum or highest penalty is termed justified; And only then imposition of such a penalty is delineated.

शौचम् ॥ Shaucha

Shaucha refers to cleanliness in thought, word and deed. And hence, is also called as Trikarana Shuddhi (त्रिकरणशुद्धिः). This principle is of considerable importance because thinking of one thing, speaking differently and doing altogether something else destroys a person's confidence in oneself and affects reliability. Therefore, such a conduct was tabooed.

In the context of Vyavasaya Dharma, it refers to the principle of 'transperancy' wherein, irrespective of being an employer/manager or employee, a person is expected to be honest and straight-forward. And following this rule of Dharma, both by the employers and the employees, is known to be most conducive to the smooth running of any Governmental department, trade, business or industry; as well as for the cordial relationship between the employers and employees.

अद्रोहः ॥ Adroha

Another important principle that also somewhere emanates from the quality of Shaucha (transperancy) is Adroha. It refers to 'Not betraying the confidence or trust reposed in oneself'. In other words, it lays down that an employee should not betray the confidence or trust reposed in him by the employer. It restrains one from indulging in theft, cheating, misappropriation, or simply going slow in working etc., that lead to loss or injury for the employer.[1]

शुक्रनीत्यां व्यवसायधर्मः ॥ Vyavasaya Dharma in Shukraniti

Based on the above basic rules of Dharma, there are certain verses in Shukraniti which stress the importance of matters like payment of proper wages, courteous treatment of the employees by the management/employer as well as honest and sincere service by the employees. It says,

  • Very low wages may lead to the employees (of the Ruler) to become his enemies and thereby result in the employees becoming plunderers of treasuries causing hardship even to the general public.[1]

ये भृत्या हीनभृतिका: शत्रवस्ते स्वयं कृता: | परस्य साधकास्ते तु छिद्रकोशप्रजाहरा: ||2.400||[4]

ye bhr̥tyā hīnabhr̥tikā: śatravaste svayaṁ kr̥tā: | parasya sādhakāste tu chidrakośaprajāharā: ||2.400||

  • Low wages, harsh treatment, insults, abuses and imposition of heavy fines or severe punishments are the causes of unrest among the employees. It is with payment of adequate wages, honourable promotion, gentle words of cheer and consolation in grief that the employees never let down or desert their ruler/employer.[1]

वाक्पारुष्यान्नयूनभृत्या स्वामी प्रबलदण्डत: | भृत्यं प्रशिक्षयेन्नित्यं शत्रुत्वं त्वपमानत: ||2.415||

भृतिदानेन सन्तुष्टा मानेन परिवर्धिता: | सान्त्विता मृदुवाचा ये न त्यजन्त्यधिपं हि ते ||2.416||[4]

vākpāruṣyānnayūnabhr̥tyā svāmī prabaladaṇḍata: | bhr̥tyaṁ praśikṣayennityaṁ śatrutvaṁ tvapamānata: ||2.415||

bhr̥tidānena santuṣṭā mānena parivardhitā: | sāntvitā mr̥duvācā ye na tyajantyadhipaṁ hi te ||2.416||

Describing an ideal employer and employee it is said,

भृत्यस्स एव सुश्श्र्लोको मापत्तौ स्वामिनं स्यदेत् | स्वामी स एव विज्ञेयो भृत्यार्थे जीवितं त्यजेत् ||

bhr̥tyassa eva suśśrloko māpattau svāminaṁ syadet | svāmī sa eva vijñeyo bhr̥tyārthe jīvitaṁ tyajet ||

Meaning : He is an excellent employee who does not desert the master in difficulties. He is known to be an ideal master who makes sacrifices in the interest of his employees.

Thus, these rules not only indicate that the employees should serve the employer honestly and not create problems for him but also give guidelines for the employers, whether state or private, on how they should treat their employees. The rules put forth that,

  1. Proper wages should be paid to the employees
  2. The employer should not mete out harsh treatment to his employees or insult them; even if punishment is to be imposed, it should not be disproportionate to the gravity of the charges proved.
  3. There should be promotional opportunities and promotion should be given as and when it due.

More importantly, it mentions that when employees are in grief, on account of bereavement, illness or for any other reason, it is the duty of the employer to console them and help them. Thus, there is much of human touch that is so apparent in these rules.

To illustrate, when an employee is bereaved or suffering from illness, if the employer or some one on his behalf were to go to the house of the employee and offer condolences and also provide some special financial assistance, he is sure to develop respect and a sense of gratitude towards the employer. This humane conduct on the part of the employer strengthens their bonds of affection and makes the employee happy. And is far more valuable than anything else.

Shukraniti also throws considerable light on just and fair treatment required to be given to the employees. Two important verses regarding the same are enumerated below that emphasize on two important factors namely,

  1. Extra Annual Payment
  2. Preference for the appointment of a deceased employee's son[1]

It says,

अष्टमांशं परितोष्यं दद्याद्भृत्याय वत्सरे | कार्याष्टमांशं वा दद्यात् कार्यं द्रागधिकं कृतम् ||2.412||[4]

aṣṭamāṁśaṁ paritoṣyaṁ dadyādbhr̥tyāya vatsare | kāryāṣṭamāṁśaṁ vā dadyāt kāryaṁ drāgadhikaṁ kr̥tam ||2.412||

Meaning : Every employee should be granted one eighth of his salary as a reward (bonus) annually. If an employee does his work efficiently, he should be granted an extra remuneration equal to one eighth of the piece rate earnings in recognition of his efficiency[1]. Furthermore it says,

स्वामिकार्ये विनष्टो यस्तत्पुत्रेतद् भृतिं वहेत् | यावत् बालोऽन्यथा पुत्रगुणान् दृष्टा भृतिं वहेत् ||2.413||[4]

svāmikārye vinaṣṭo yastatputretad bhr̥tiṁ vahet | yāvat bālo'nyathā putraguṇān dr̥ṣṭā bhr̥tiṁ vahet ||2.413||

Meaning : If any employee dies before retirement, his son becomes automatically entitled to get the employment of his deceased father. After becoming a major, his wages should be determined according to his qualifications.[1]

भृत्यपोषणम् ॥ Feeding Domestic Helpers[1]

The Apastamba Smrti makes an important provision concerning domestic servants which indicates that an employer should ensure humane treatment to the employees. It says,

ये नित्या भात्किकास्तेषामनुपरोधेन संविभागो विहित: | काममात्मानं भार्यां पुत्रं कोपरुन्ध्यान्न त्वेव दासकर्मकरम् ||

ye nityā bhātkikāsteṣāmanuparodhena saṁvibhāgo vihita: | kāmamātmānaṁ bhāryāṁ putraṁ koparundhyānna tveva dāsakarmakaram ||

Meaning : While distributing food to all the guests, if there is any shortage of food, the householder may reduce the share to himself, his wife and children, but by no means the food due to a domestic helper should be reduced.

The directive of the verse is that an employer should never make his domestic employee starve even if it meant shortage of food for himself. It exhibits the requirement of being kind to employees. It is also obvious that this directive was regarded as essential. Because, if there is shortage of food for the owner and/or his wife, they would certainly prepare food and satisfy their hunger. But the employee would be helpless. Therefore, the rule provided that food should be reserved for the employee, thereby recognising the human right for food.

This rule read with the others like payment of fair wages and courteous treatment are illustrative of the respect for human right. In fact, they constituted the basic principles for the guidance of employers in order to ensure just and fair treatment to the employees.

संहृतिः ॥ Synopsis[1]

Speaking of the Dharma of Employers and Employees, Justice M. Rama Jois in his book "Dharma - The Global Ethic" says,

The various provisions on the topic of 'Dharma' regulating the relationship between the employer and the employee determining their respective duties and rights are remarkable for the humane and pragmatic approach made to the problems of the working class. They enjoin the employees to be honest and sincere in their service and loyal to their employers. At the same time, they require the employers to pay proper wages, give promotions and other service benefits to the employees. In particular, they ask the employers to treat the employees with respect and sympathy. These rules are not only indicative of the importance given to the dignity of an individual but is also in conformity with the philosophical foundation of the land that all should be happy ie. सर्वे जनाः सुखिनो भवन्तु | sarve janāḥ sukhino bhavantu |

Further, the directive to treat everyone as one's ownself (ie. आत्मवत् सर्वभूतानाम् | ātmavat sarvabhūtānām |) goes to show that the ancient Bharatiya thinkers were fully mindful to the necessity of a cordial relationship between the employers and employees, as that alone could ensure proper running of any trade, business or industry.

Thus, the mandate has been that it is the duty of every employer and employee to obey the directives which incorporate the Dharma of employers and employees, which in turn would, ensure harmony between them and give no scope for class conflict that could result in industrial unrest.

Also, the sense of gratitude which is regarded as one of the basic rules of Dharma, was applicable with greater force to the employers and employees. This meant that an employee should be grateful to the employer who provided him an employment with the aid of which the employee not only learnt the job from the employer and acquired expertise, but also earned income. Similarly, an employer was also required to have a sense of gratitude towards his employees, who toiled for him. Thus, mutual co-operation with a sense of gratitude towards each other was made a part of Dharma which is of eternal value for the success of any business, trade, industry or undertaking.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 Justice Mandagadde Rama Jois (1997), Dharma: The Global Ethic, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
  2. Bhagavad Gita, Adhyaya 2.
  3. Mahabharata, Shanti Parva, Adhyaya 59.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Jivananda Vidyasagar Bhatt (1860), Shukranitisara, Kolkata.