Case Study: Lourdes C. Rodriguez vs. Park N Ride, Inc. et al.

G.R. No. 222980

20 Mar 2017

Leonen, J.

FACTS:

On January 30,1984, Lourdes Rodriguez was hired by spouses Vicente & Estelita B. Javier as Restaurant Supervisor for their restaurant at Vicest Phils. Later, when the restaurant closed, she was transferred to do office work and became an Administrative and Finance assistant to Estelita Javier.


As the spouses ventured into other businesses, establishing more companies, petitioner’s duties extended to handling personnel, finance and administrative matters of these companies without additional compensation. Even substituting as cashier at their Park N Ride business when the Head Cashier would be on day-off. She was also tasked to take care of the household concerns of the Javier spouses, such as preparing payrolls for drivers and helpers, shopping for household needs, and looking after the spouses’ house whenever they travelled abroad.


She allegedly worked from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Mondays to Saturdays; was on call on Sundays; and worked during Christmas and other holidays. She was deducted an equivalent of two (2) days' wage for every day of absence and was not paid any service incentive leave pay. Tasked with so much duties and responsibilities and unable to bear the spouses’ treatment of her, she filed a resignation letter effective April 25, 2009 however the spouses did not accept her resignation and convinced her to stay on. However her experience became worse as Estelita allegedly became more unreasonable, hot-headed and would belittle and embarrass her in the presence of co-workers.


On September 29, 2009, when she was late in opening the Makati office after going on her usual “pamalengke” for the spouses, Estelita called her on the phone and scolded her for it, once again berating her and telling her that if she did not want to continue work, the company could manage without her. Thus, On September 29, 2009, she wrote a letter to the spouses expressing her grievances at them. She intimated that they were always finding fault with her to push her to resign.


On October 6, 2009, the Javier spouses replied to her letter, allegedly accepting her resignation.


On October 7, 2009, Rodriguez filed a Complaint for constructive illegal dismissal, non-payment of service incentive leave pay and 13th month pay, including claims for moral and exemplary damages and attorney's fees against Park N Ride, Vicest Phils., Grand Leisure, and the Javier Spouses.


The Labor Arbiter dismissed the complaint and deemed her resigned. The NLRC reversed the ruling of the LA. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reinstated the decision of the Labor Arbiter.


ISSUE:

Whether or not complainant was constructively dismissed.


RULING:

Affirming the decision of the Court of appeals with modifications, the Supreme Court ruled that petitioner was not constructively dismissed.


There is constructive dismissal when an employer's act of clear discrimination, insensibility or disdain becomes so unbearable on the part of the employee so as to foreclose any choice on his part except to resign from such employment.71 It exists where there is involuntary resignation because of the harsh, hostile and unfavorable conditions set by the employer.


Strong words may sometimes be exchanged as the employer describes her expectations or as the employee narrates the conditions of her work environment and the obstacles she encounters as she accomplishes her assigned tasks. As in every human relationship, there are bound to be disagreements. However, when these strong words from the employer happen without palpable reason or are expressed only for the purpose of degrading the dignity of the employee, then a hostile work environment will be created.


This is not the situation in this case.


Complainant was not pressured into resigning. It seems that the complainant was not comfortable anymore with the fact that she was always at the beck and call of the respondent Javier spouses. Her supervisory and managerial functions appear to be impeding her time with her family to such extent that she was always complaining of her extended hours with the company. It is of no moment that respondent spouses in many occasions reprimanded complainant as long as it was reasonably connected and an offshoot of the work or business of respondents.


From the representation of petitioner, what triggered her resignation was the incident on September 22, 2009 when Estelita told her "Kung ayaw mo na ng ginagawa mo, we can manage! " These words, however, are not sufficient to make the continued employment of petitioner impossible, unreasonable, or unlikely.


Petitioner was neither terminated on September 22, 2009 nor was she constructively dismissed. There was no showing of bad faith or malicious design by the respondents that would make her work conditions unbearable. On the other hand, it is a fact that petitioner enjoyed the privilege of working closely with the Javier Spouses and having their full trust and confidence. Spontaneous expressions of an employer do not automatically render a hostile work atmosphere. The circumstances in this case negate its presence.


On the monetary claims, petitioner is not entitled to moral and exemplary damages considering that she was not illegally dismissed.


On the other hand, with respect to service incentive leave pay, the Court of Appeals limited the award thereof to three (3) years (2006 to 2009) only due to the prescriptive period under Article 291 of the Labor Code. It held:


Article 95 of the Labor Code provides that every employee who has rendered at least one year of service shall be entitled to a yearly service incentive leave pay of five days with pay, subject to exceptions (i.e.: when the employee is already enjoying vacation leave with pay of at least five days; and when the employee is employed in an establishment regularly employing less than ten employees).


It was not shown here that petitioner Rodriguez was enjoying vacation leave with pay of at least five days while being employed by private respondents Spouses Javier; it was not shown that private respondents Spouses Javier were merely employing less than 10 employees (on the contrary, private respondent spouses Javier stated that they were employing less than 15 employees). Hence, the award of service incentive leave pay to petitioner Rodriguez was proper.


Applying Article 291 of the Labor Code in light of this peculiarity of the service incentive leave, we can conclude that the three (3)-year prescriptive period commences, not at the end of the year when the employee becomes entitled to the commutation of his service incentive leave, but from the time when the employer refuses to pay its monetary equivalent after demand of commutation or upon termination of the employee's services, as the case may be.


Thus, the prescriptive period with respect to petitioner's claim for her entire service incentive leave pay commenced only from the time of her resignation or separation from employment. Since petitioner had filed her complaint on October 7, 2009, or a few days after her resignation in September 2009, her claim for service incentive leave pay has not prescribed. Accordingly, petitioner must be awarded service incentive leave pay for her entire 25 years of service-from 1984 to 2009-and not only three (3) years' worth (2006 to 2009) as determined by the Court of Appeals.


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