Offensive, obscene, or insulting language made against a superior is serious misconduct.
The Supreme Court held in the following case:
Roque B. Benitez and Santa Fe Labor Union-Federation of Free Workers vs. Santa Fe Moving and Relocation Services/Vedit Kurangil
G.R. No. 208163, April 20, 2015
The company, Santa Fe Moving and Relocation Services, is engaged in providing relocation and moving services, including visa, immigration and real estate services. Benitez (the union’s Vice-President at the time), was its former packing and moving operator (crew leader) since June 2001.
Benitez alleged that the company served him a memorandum advising him not to report for work effective immediately, thereby terminating his employment, supposedly on grounds of serious misconduct or willful disobedience. He allegedly uttered abusive words against Kurangil during the company’s Christmas Party. He bewailed that he was not given the opportunity to defend himself.
Benitez claimed that during the party, he noticed that the raffle committee members were putting back the names of those who were already drawn, giving them more chances of winning. He appealed to the committee to put a stop to what they were doing, but they replied they would not “in the spirit of Christmas.” He denied having verbally abused Kurangil. He presented the affidavits of co-employees Jhun Bulan, Romualdo Elib, Carlos Morata and Raul Ramirez, attesting that Benitez, who was with them at one table, did not commit the offense which led to his dismissal.
Learn the Valid Dismissal of Employees
Benitez argued that his dismissal constituted an unfair labor practice as he was a union officer and that it was undertaken to derail the conclusion of a collective bargaining agreement with the company. He further argued that the penalty of dismissal is disproportionate to his alleged offense, considering that it was committed during a casual gathering and had no connection to his work.
The company and Kurangil denied liability. They maintained that the company has developed a world-renowned reputation for unsurpassed customer service and quality in its line of business. They averred that during the Christmas Party Benitez berated and maligned Kurangil by throwing foul and offensive words at him, such as “putang ina mo ka VK, gago ka!” Benitez’s tirade, they added, included the company and it officers. Moreover, the incident happened in front of the company’s employees, their families, as well as company clients and guests.
Allegedly, while the raffle was going on, Benitez climbed up the stage and questioned the management’s decision to allow contractual employees to join the raffle. This resulted in only 80% of the employees winning raffle prizes. Benitez then started hurling invectives and foul language while still on stage, mostly directed at Kurangil.
The company further alleged that even when Benitez stormed out of the stage, he kept on berating Kurangil, such that people he passed by overheard him cursing Kurangil and the company and that he even attempted to a throw a beer bottle at Kurangil, but he was restrained by other employees.
Witnesses for the company alleged that Benitez’s tirade started when the raffle for the grand prize was being conducted. All of a sudden, Benitez, who had not yet won a prize at that time, stood up and proceeded to the stage, fuming mad and complaining about the conduct of the raffle.
The company required Benitez to explain in writing why he should not be disciplined for serious misconduct and willful disobedience of its lawful orders in connection with the incident. Benitez failed to comply and neither did he show remorse for what he did.
In view of Benitez’s failure to explain his side, the company terminated his employment effective on the same day the letter was served. The termination was for violation of Santa Fe Policy and Procedure under Conduct and Behavior as well as Labor Code of the Philippines under Art. 282 on serious misconduct or willful disobedience.
The LA dismissed the complaint for lack of merit.
The LA found that Benitez, who was holding a position of trust and confidence as packing and moving operator, committed a serious misconduct at the company’s Christmas Party by “hurling obscene, insulting or offensive language against a superior,” thereby losing the trust and confidence of his employer.
Benitez and the union appealed, reiterating that his dismissal is illegal. Moreover, they claimed, he was denied due process as he was not given the opportunity to explain his side.
The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) dismissed the appeal, likewise for lack of merit.
It sustained LA Franco’s finding that Benitez was validly dismissed for serious misconduct. However, it noted “that the respondents failed to comply with the two-notice requirement as mandated by the Labor Code in validly dismissing an employee.” Accordingly, it affirmed LA Franco’s ruling with modification by awarding Benitez nominal damages of 50,000.00 for the violation of his right to procedural due process.
Benitez and the union moved for reconsideration, to no avail. The NLRC denied the motion, prompting them to file a petition for certiorari with the CA.
The CA found no grave abuse of discretion in the NLRC’s affirmation of LA Franco’s ruling that Benitez was validly dismissed. It stressed that “the findings of the NLRC which adopted those of the Labor Arbiter were in accord with the evidence on record.” It dismissed the petition and denied Benitez’s subsequent motion for reconsideration.
Whether or not the dismissal of Benitez for serious misconduct is a disproportionate penalty considering that it was committed during a casual gathering and had no connection to his work
Whether or not the Samson case involving employee who made utterances of obscene, insulting, and offensive words, against the Management Committee, in the presence of several co-employees, is applicable in favor of Benitez
Whether or not the Benitez is entitled to indemnity for being terminated on the same day the letter of termination was served on him (he was verbally required to explain)
The SC did not find merit in the petition.
The SC held that despite Benitez’s denial, there is substantial evidence that he maligned the company’s managing director and the company itself during their Christmas Party. Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other minds equally reasonable might conceivably opine otherwise.
The SC was convinced that Benitez’s offense constituted a serious misconduct as defined by law. His display of insolent and disrespectful behavior, in utter disregard of the time and place of its occurrence, had very much to do with his work. He set a bad example as a union officer and as a crew leader of a vital division of the company.
Benitez’s actuations during the company’s Christmas Party could have had negative repercussions for his employer had he been allowed to stay on the job. His standing before those clients who witnessed the incident and those who would hear of it would surely be diminished, to the detriment of the company.
As regards comparison with the Samson case, Samson’s outburst occurred during an informal Christmas gathering of company sales officials and staff and his maligned superior was not present during the gathering. On the other hand, Benitez went up the stage and confronted his superior with a verbal abuse.
The company failed to observe the two-notice requirement in employee dismissals as Benitez was dismissed on the same day that the memorandum was served on him. The verbal directive for him to explain why he should not be dismissed, assuming that there was indeed such a directive, clearly was not in compliance with the law.
Nonetheless, considering the gravity of Benitez’s offense, we deem it reasonable to award him P30,000.00 in nominal damages for violation of his right to procedural due process.