Leo T. Maula vs. Ximex Delivery Express, Inc.
G.R. No. 207838, January 25, 2017
Leo T. Maula (Maula) claims that he was hired by Ximex as Operation Staff. As Operation Steff, he performed a variety of duties such as but not limited to documentation, checker, dispatcher or airfreight coordinator.
Maula’s employment was uneventful until came when Ximex’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. He, 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. Ximex company’s manager, Amador Cabrera, retorted: “Ay wala yan walang kwenta yan.”
When he disclosed that he consulted a lawyer, Ximex Cabrera insisted it was nothing and accordingly, no lawyer could say that it really matters. Cabrera even dared the Maula to present the lawyer. The meeting was concluded. When he was about to exit from the conference room he was addressed with the parting words: “Baka gusto mo, mag-labor ka!” He did not react.
On March 4, 2009, Maula filed a complaint before the National Conciliation and Mediation Board. Not long thereafter, or 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 Maula. 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 Maula but his co-employee who checked the cargo.
The following day, he received a memorandum charging him with “negligence in performing duties.” He received another memorandum of “reassignment” wherein he was directed to report to Richard Omalza and Ferdinand Marzan in another department of the company. On 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 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 previously, he thus refused.
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, Parafiaque, 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, Maula 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. There he was served with the memorandum suspending him from work for thirty (30) days for alleged “Serious misconduct and willful disobedience by the employee of the lawful orders of his employer or representative in connection with his work.”
His apprehension was thus confirmed. On April 8, 2009, he filed a case anew with the NCMB. On May 4, 2009, he reported to the office only to be refused entry. Instead, a dismissal letter was handed to him. The NCMB, the mediator decided that the case be brought to the National Labor Relations Commission for arbitration. Thus, he withdrew his complaint. Later, he was able to re-file his complaint with the Arbitration Branch of the NLRC. Efforts were exerted by the Labor Arbiter to encourage the parties to amicably settle but without success.
Ximex countered that: it is a duly registered domestic corporation engaged in the business of cargo forwarding and truck-hauling; Maula and several other employees misinterpreted the use of its old form “For New Hires,” that they were relegated to the status of new employees when in fact they have been employed for quite some time already; after the conciliation conference before the NCMB, it relied on his promise that he would not disturb the peace in the company premises, which proved to be wishful thinking; as to the misdelivered cargo of Globe Telecoms, initial investigation disclosed that he was tasked to check the correct information in the package to ensure prompt delivery, hence, a Memorandum dated March 27, 2009 was issued to him to explain his side;
Thereafter, it was learned from his co-employees that he abandoned his work a few hours after logging in, which was a serious disobedience to the HR Head’s order for him to teach the new employees assigned to his group; also, he refused to accept a company order with respect to his transfer of assignment to another client, Fullerlife; for the series of willful disobedience, a Memorandum dated April 3, 2009 was personally served to him by Gorospe, but he repeatedly refused to receive the memorandum and howled at her, “Segura na abnormal ang utak mo!”;
His arrogant actuations, which were directed against a female superior who never made any provocation and in front of many employees, were contemptuous, gravely improper, and breeds disrespect, even ignominy, against the company and its officers; Another memorandum was issued to give him the opportunity to explain his side and to inform him of his preventive suspension for thirty (30) days pending investigation; and the management, after evaluating the gravity of the charges and the number of infractions, decided to dismiss him from employment through a notice of dismissal, which was sent via registered mail.
The LA found the dismissal illegal.
It held that Ximex appeared bent on terminating the services of complainant following his taking Ximex to task for the new form and in the eventual dispute before the NCMB.
On appeal, the NLRC affirmed in toto the LA’s decision.
It held that each employee should deal with his co-employees with due respect, the attending circumstances, however, should be taken into consideration why said utterance was made in order to arrive at a fair and equitable decision in this case.
In a span of one week, [Maula] received three (3) [memoranda] requiring him to explain three (3) different offenses. The utterance was more of an outburst of [his] emotion, having been subjected to three [memoranda] in successive days, the last of which placed him under suspension for 30 days. Clearly, said utterance [cannot] be considered grave and aggravated in character to warrant the dismissal.
Ximex and its accountable officers moved for reconsideration. In partially granting the motion, the NLRC ruled that while the memoranda charging Maula of negligence, misconduct, and disobedience were unfounded and that he could not be blamed for his emotional flare-up due to what he considered as successive retaliatory actions, there was no malice or bad faith on the part of Ibanez, Gorospe, and Cabrera to justify their solidary liability with Ximex.
Maula did not move to reconsider the modified judgment.
Ximex elevated the case to the CA.
The CA reversed and set aside the Resolution and the Decision of the NLRC.
Maula went to the SC via a petition for review.
Whether or not the dismissal was valid.
Learn how to Validly Dismiss an employee
The SC found the petition meritorious.
While an employer is given a wide latitude of discretion in managing its own affairs, in the promulgation of policies, rules and regulations on work-related activities of its employees, and in the imposition of disciplinary measures on them, the exercise of disciplining and imposing appropriate penalties on erring employees must be practiced in good faith and for the advancement of the employer’s interest and not for the purpose of defeating or circumventing the rights of employees under special laws or under valid agreements.
Dismissal from employment have two facets: first, the legality of the act of dismissal, which constitutes substantive due process; and, second, the legality of the manner of dismissal, which constitutes procedural due process. The burden of proof rests upon the employer to show that the disciplinary action was made for lawful cause or that the termination of employment was valid. In administrative and quasi-judicial proceedings, the quantum of evidence required is substantial evidence or “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Thus, unsubstantiated suspicions, accusations, and conclusions of the employer do not provide legal justification for dismissing the employee. When in doubt, the case should be resolved in favor of labor pursuant to the social justice policy of our labor laws and the 1987 Constitution.
Ximex manifestly failed to prove that Maula’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 Maula to the HR Manager should be viewed with reasonable leniency in light of the fact that it was committed under an emotionally charged state.
The SC agreed with the labor arbiter and the NLRC that the on-the-spur-of-the-moment outburst of Maula, he having reached his breaking point, was due to what he perceived as successive retaliatory and orchestrated actions of Ximex. There was only lapse in judgment rather than a premeditated defiance of authority. Further, Maula’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, Ximex did not elaborate exactly how and to what extent that its “nature of business” and “industrial peace” were damaged by Maula’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 Ximex’s interest. Even if a just cause exists, the employer still has the discretion whether to dismiss the employee, impose a lighter penalty, or condone the offense committed. In making such decision, the employee’s past offenses may be taken into consideration.
Ximex cannot invoke the principle of totality of infractions considering that Maula’s alleged previous acts of misconduct were not established in accordance with the requirements of procedural due process. In fact, Ximex conceded that he “was not even censured for any infraction in the past.”
It admitted that “[the] March 25, 2009 incident that [Maula] 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.”
The SC found the penalty of dismissal too harsh holding that 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. Maula’s termination from employment is also inappropriate considering that he had been with Ximex 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.
On the aspect of procedural due process, the termination letter issued by Ximex 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.
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