Case Digest: Universal Robina Sugar Milling Corporation v. Elmer Albay et al. (March 16, 2016)

G.R. No. 218172

March 16, 2016

Perlas-Bernabe,J.:

Facts:

Sometime in 1997, the Union filed a complaint against petitioner for violation of labor standards before the DOLE. After due proceedings, the DOLE found petitioner liable to the members of the Union in the total amount of P210,217.54 and, consequently, issued a Writ of Execution to enforce the said ruling. Thus, DOLE Sheriff Ignacio Calinawan (Sheriff Calinawan) went to petitioner's premises to serve the writ to petitioner's Personnel Manager, Jocelyn Teo (Teo), but the latter refused to comply by reason of petitioner's pending appeal before the Secretary of Labor. On his second attempt to serve the writ at the petitioner’s premises, Sheriff Calinawan sought the help of the Union Officers, including respondents, in its enforcement. Despite Teo's refusal to receive the writ, Sheriff Calinawan and respondents still effected a levy on one of petitioner's forklifts, took it outside the company premises, and deposited it at the municipal hall for safekeeping.

Due to the foregoing incidents, petitioner issued a Notice of Offense to each of the respondents, requiring them to explain in writing why no disciplinary action should be taken against them. Thereafter, petitioner issued a Notice of Administrative Investigation to each of the respondents, charging them of stealing company property, fraudulent acquisition or release to other persons of company property, unauthorized possession/use of company property, unauthorized operation of company equipment, and serious misconduct during official working hours or within company premises. After due investigation, petitioner furnished respondents with a Notice of Dismissal for being found guilty as charged.


This prompted the respondents to file a complaint for illegal dismissal, unfair labor practice and recovery of damages.


Issues:

  1. Whether or not the respondents were illegally dismissed.

  2. If illegally dismissed, are respondents entitled to reinstatement and backwages?


Ruling:

Respondents were illegally dismissed.


Misconduct is defined as an improper or wrong conduct. It is a 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.


For serious misconduct to be a just cause for dismissal, the concurrence of the following elements is required: (a) the misconduct must be serious; (b) it must relate to the performance of the employee's duties showing that the employee has become unfit to continue working for the employer; and (c) it must have been performed with wrongful intent.


Respondents committed some form of misconduct when they assisted the sheriff in in effecting the levy on the forklift and depositing the same to the municipal hall for safekeeping as they operated the forklift and took it out of company premises, all without the authority and consent from petitioner or any of its officers.However, they did not perform the said act with intent to gain but rather of the mistaken belief that they were merely helping in the enforcement of the writ to collect what is due them as a matter of right.


In this light, the Court upheld the right of the petitioner to impose some disciplinary actions against the respondents, but nevertheless, held that respondents should not have been dismissed for dismissal was too harsh a penalty. Suspension would have sufficed considering that respondents were not occupying managerial or confidential positions and that it was their first offense in their 14-15 years of service to the company.Hence, dismissal was illegal and reinstatement was in order.


Despite the order of reinstatement, the court held that respondents are not entitled to backwages.


As a general rule, an illegally dismissed employee is entitled to reinstatement (or separation pay, if reinstatement is not viable) and payment of full backwages. In certain cases, the Court, however, has ordered the reinstatement of the employee without backwages considering the fact that (1) the dismissal of the employee would be too harsh a penalty; and (2)the employer was in good faith in terminating the employee.


Respondents were indeed guilty of some form of misconduct and, as such, petitioner was justified in exercising disciplinary action against them. Absent any evidence to the contrary, petitioner's resort to disciplinary proceedings should be presumed to have been done in good faith.


Thus, the petitioner was ordered to reinstate the petitioners without backwages, except for respondent Albay, whose conviction as an accomplice to the murder of petitioner's former assistant manager had strained the relationship between him and petitioner and hence should not be reinstated in the company and, instead, be paid separation pay

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