Universal Robina Sugar Milling Corporation vs. Ablay
G.R. No. 218172, March 16, 2016


The Sheriff of DOLE was enforcing the Writ of Execution with respect to the judgment award on account of non-compliance with the wage order. The Sheriff went to petitioner’s premises to serve the writ to the Personnel Manager, but the latter refused to comply by reason of petitioner’s pending appeal before the Secretary of Labor. Two (2) months later, the Sheriff went back to in another attempt to serve the writ of execution, this time, seeking the help of the Union Officers, including respondents, in its enforcement. Despite the Personnel Manager’s refusal to receive the writ, the Sheriff 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 filing of the instant complaint.

LA Ruling:

The LA dismissed respondents’ complaint for illegal dismissal for lack of merit but awarded unpaid salary and other monetary claims. The LA found that respondents’ participation in the execution of the writ by Sheriff Calinawan, while legal, was tainted with arrogance and lawlessness, considering that the same was effected with the use of force and intimidation. The LA highlighted the fact that their act of assisting Sheriff Calinawan in an intimidating mob-like manner to divest the company of its property was inimical to the interest of petitioner company. Aggrieved, both parties appealed to the NLRC.

NLRC Ruling:

The NLRC affirmed the LA ruling with modification, reducing the monetary awards in favor of respondents. It held that the manner in which respondents assisted in the execution of the writ was arrogant and unlawful and, thus, deemed the legality of their termination as valid. Dissatisfied, both parties moved for reconsideration, but the same were denied. Undaunted, respondents filed a petition for certiorar before the CA.

CA Ruling:

The CA reversed and set aside the NLRC ruling by declaring respondents to have been illegally dismissed by petitioner. Accordingly, petitioner was ordered to reinstate respondents and pay them backwages, unpaid salaries, 13th month pay, unused leave pay, and social amelioration pay.

While the CA agrees with the finding that respondents violated company rules in the manner by which they assisted Sheriff Calinawan in enforcing the writ of execution, it ruled that dismissal is too severe a penalty for the infraction. Finding that: (a) respondent’s act of bringing the forklift out of the company premises was not tantamount to robbery or theft as they did not do so with intent to gain, but were merely motivated by their strong desire to collect what is due them as a matter of right; (b) they were mere equipment operators, technicians, and electricians, and thus, not occupying managerial nor confidential positions; and (c) it was their first offense in their 14-15 years of service, the CA concluded that the penalty of suspension would have sufficed as a penalty.

The MR was denied. Hence, the petition.


Whether or not the dismissal for serious misconduct was valid.

SC Ruling:

The SC found the petition partly meritorious.

Clearly, respondents committed some form of misconduct when they assisted Sheriff Calinawan 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, as correctly pointed out by the CA, respondents did not perform the said acts with intent to gain or with wrongful intent. Rather, they were impelled by their belief -albeit misplaced -that they were merely facilitating the enforcement of a favorable decision in a labor standards case in order to finally collect what is due them as a matter of right, which is the balance of their unpaid benefits. In light of the foregoing, the Court upholds the right of petitioner to take the appropriate disciplinary action against respondents, but nevertheless, holds that respondents should not have been dismissed from service as a less punitive sanction, i.e., suspension, would have sufficed.

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, however, the Court has carved out an exception to the foregoing rule and thereby ordered the reinstatement of the employee without backwages on account of the following: (a) the fact that the dismissal of the employee would be too harsh a penalty; and (b) that the employer was in good faith in terminating the employee. Thus, perceiving that petitioner had ample ground to proceed with its disciplinary action against respondents, and that the disciplinary proceedings appear to have been conducted in good faith, the Court finds it proper to apply the exception to the rule on backwages, and consequently, direct the deletion of backwages in favor of respondents.


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