LEO T. MAULA, Petitioner,
XIMEX DELIVERY EXPRESS, INC., Respondent
GR No. 207838 January 25, 2017
TOPIC: serious misconduct, totality of infractions, preventive suspension
Petitioner Maula was hired by respondent as Operation Staff. His duties include, but are not limited to, documentation, checker, dispatcher or airfreight coordinator.
Petitioner’s employment was uneventful until came February 18, 2009 when the respondent’s HRD required him and some other employees to sign a form sub-titled “Personal Data for New Hires.” When he inquired about it he was told it was nothing but merely for the twenty-peso increase which the company owner allegedly wanted to see. He could not help but entertain doubts on the scheme as they were hurriedly made to sign the same. It also appeared from the form that the designated salary/wage was daily instead of on a monthly basis.
On February 25, 2009, petitioner, together with some other concerned employees, requested for a meeting with their manager together with the manager of the HRD. They questioned the document and aired their side voicing their apprehensions against the designation “For New Hires” since they were long time regular employees earning monthly salary/wages and not daily wage earners. The respondent company’s manager, Amador Cabrera, retorted: “Ay wala yan walang kwenta yan.”
On March 25, 2009, in the evening, a supposed problem cropped up. A misroute of cargo was reported and the company cast the whole blame on the petitioner. It was alleged that he erroneously wrote the label on the box – the name and destination, and allegedly was the one who checked the cargo. The imputation is quite absurd because it was the client who actually wrote the name and destination, whereas, it was not the petitioner but his co-employee who checked the cargo. The following day, he received a memorandum charging him with “negligence in performing duties.”
On April 2, 2009 at 4:00 p.m., he received another memorandum of “reassignment” wherein he was directed to report effective April 2, 2009 to Omalza and Marzan in another department of the company. But then, at around 4:30 p.m. of the same day, he was instructed by the HR manager to proceed to his former office for him to train his replacement. He went inside the warehouse and at around 6:00 p.m. he began teaching his replacement. At 8:00 p.m., his replacement went outside. He waited for sometime and came to know later when he verified outside that the person already went straight home.
When he went back inside, his supervisor insisted to him to continue with his former work, but due to the “reassignment paper” he had some reservations. Sensing he might again be framed up and maliciously accused of such as what happened on March 25, 2009, he thus refused. Around 10:30 p.m., he went home.
The following day, an attempt to serve another memorandum was made on him. This time he was made to explain by the HR Manager why he did not perform his former work and not report to his reassignment. It only validated his apprehension of a set-up. For how could he be at two places at the same time (his former work is situated in Sucat, Parañaque, whereas, his new assignment is in FTI, Taguig City). It bears emphasizing that the directive for him to continue discharging his former duties was merely verbal. At this point, petitioner lost his composure. Exasperated, he refused to receive the memorandum and thus retorted “Seguro na-abnormal na ang utak mo” as it dawned on him that they were out looking for every means possible to pin him down.
Nonetheless, he reported to his reassignment in FTI Taguig on April 3, 2009. There he was served with the memorandum suspending him from work for 30 days effective April 4, 2009 for alleged “Serious misconduct and willful disobedience by the employee of the lawful orders of his employer or representative in connection with his work.”
On May 4, 2009, he reported to the office only to be refused entry. Instead, a dismissal letter was handed to him.
Petitioner Maula filed a complaint against respondent Ximex and its officers for illegal dismissal and other money claims. LA and NLRC found that petitioner was illegally dismissed. CA reversed the same.
Whether or not Maula’s inflammatory language constitutes serious misconduct which warrants his dismissal.
Petitioner’s outburst did not constitute serious misconduct
The Court held that respondent manifestly failed to prove that petitioner’s alleged act constitutes serious misconduct.
Misconduct is improper or wrong conduct; it is the transgression of some established and definite rule of action, a forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, willful in character, and implies wrongful intent and not mere error in judgment. The misconduct, to be serious within the meaning of the Labor Code, must be of such a grave and aggravated character and not merely trivial or unimportant. Thus, for misconduct or improper behavior to be a just cause for dismissal, (a) it must be serious; (b) it must relate to the performance of the employee’s duties; and (c) it must show that the employee has become unfit to continue working for the employer.
While this Court held in past decisions that accusatory and inflammatory language used by an employee to the employer or superior can be a ground for dismissal or termination, the circumstances peculiar to this case find the previous rulings inapplicable. The admittedly insulting and unbecoming language uttered by petitioner to the HR Manager on April 3, 2009 should be viewed with reasonable leniency in light of the fact that it was committed under an emotionally charged state. We agree with the labor arbiter and the NLRC that the on-the-spur-of-the-moment outburst of petitioner, he having reached his breaking point, was due to what he perceived as successive retaliatory and orchestrated actions of respondent. Indeed, there was only lapse in judgment rather than a premeditated defiance of authority.
Further, petitioner’s purported “thug-like” demeanor is not serious in nature. Despite the “grave embarassment” supposedly caused on Gorospe, she did not even take any separate action independent of the company. Likewise, respondent did not elaborate exactly how and to what extent that its “nature of business” and “industrial peace” were damaged by petitioner’s misconduct. It was not shown in detail that he has become unfit to continue working for the company and that the continuance of his services is patently inimical to respondent’s interest.
Doctrine of totality of infractions not applicable
Respondent contends that aside from petitioner’s disrespectful remark against Gorospe, he also committed several prior intentional misconduct, to wit: erroneous packaging of a cargo of respondent’s client, abandoning work after logging in, failing to teach the rudiments of his job to the new employees assigned to his group despite orders from his superior, and refusing to accept the management’s order on the transfer of assignment.
The Court held that respondent cannot invoke the principle of totality of infractions considering that petitioner’s alleged previous acts of misconduct were not established in accordance with the requirements of procedural due process. In fact, respondent conceded that he “was not even censured for any infraction in the past.”
It admitted that “the March 25, 2009 incident that petitioner was referring to could not be construed as laying the predicate for his dismissal, because he was not penalized for the misrouting incident when he had adequately and satisfactorily explained his side. Neither was he penalized for the other memoranda previously or subsequently issued to him.”
Penalty of dismissal too harsh
This Court likewise found the penalty of dismissal too harsh. Not every case of insubordination or willful disobedience by an employee reasonably deserves the penalty of dismissal because the penalty to be imposed on an erring employee must be commensurate with the gravity of his or her offense. Petitioner’s termination from employment is also inappropriate considering that he had been with respondent company for seven (7) years and he had no previous derogatory record. It is settled that notwithstanding the existence of a just cause, dismissal should not be imposed, as it is too severe a penalty, if the employee had been employed for a considerable length of time in the service of his or her employer, and such employment is untainted by any kind of dishonesty and irregularity.
Petitioner was not accorded procedural due process
The Court held that the Memorandum dated April 3, 2009 does not contain the following: a detailed narration of facts and circumstances for petitioner to intelligently prepare his explanation and defenses, the specific company rule violated and the corresponding penalty therefor, and a directive giving him at least five (5) calendar days to submit a written explanation.
No ample opportunity to be heard was also accorded to petitioner. Instead of devising a just way to get the side of petitioner through testimonial and/or documentary evidence, respondent took advantage of his “refusal” to file a written explanation. This should not be so. An employer is duty-bound to exert earnest efforts to arrive at a settlement of its differences with the employee. While a full adversarial hearing or conference is not required, there must be a fair and reasonable opportunity for the employee to explain the controversy at hand.
Finally, the termination letter issued by respondent miserably failed to satisfy the requisite contents of a valid notice of termination. Instead of discussing the facts and circumstances to support the violation of the alleged company rule that imposed a penalty of dismissal, the letter merely repeats the self-serving accusations stated in Memorandum dated April 3, 2009.
Preventive suspension imposed was not justified
The Court held that preventive suspension is justified where the employee’s continued employment poses a serious and imminent threat to the life or property of the employer or of the employee’s co-workers. Without this kind of threat, preventive suspension is not proper.
Here, it cannot be said that petitioner posed a danger on the lives of the officers or employees of respondent or their properties. Being one of the Operation Staff, which was a rank and file position, he could not and would not be able to sabotage the operations of respondent. The difficulty of finding a logical and reasonable connection between his assigned tasks and the necessity of his preventive suspension is apparent from the fact that even respondent was not able to present concrete evidence to support its general allegation.
Rules on Preventive Suspension: Sections 8 and 9 of Rule XXIII, Book V of the Omnibus Rules Implementing the Labor Code
SEC. 8. Preventive suspension. – The employer may place the worker concerned under preventive suspension if his continued employment poses a serious and imminent threat to the life or property of the employer or of his co-workers.
SEC. 9. Period of suspension. – No preventive suspension shall last longer than thirty (30) days. The employer shall thereafter reinstate the worker in his former or in a substantially equivalent position or the employer may extend the period of suspension provided that during the period of extension, he pays the wages and other benefits due to the worker. In such case, the worker shall not be bound to reimburse the amount paid to him during the extension if the employer decides, after completion of the hearing, to dismiss the worker.