Employer cannot bear the economic burden in a case where reinstatement is not possible due to strained relations.

Thus, the SC ruled in a November 20, 2017 case, as follows:

Froel M. Pu-Od, et al. vs. Ablaze Builders, Inc.
G.R. No. 230791, November 20, 2017


Ablaze Builders, Inc., is engaged in the construction business. It has been its practice to hire construction workers, foreman, and other personnel on per project basis. Ablaze, et al. hired Pu-Od et al. on different dates, positions and daily salaries.

Sometime in June 2013, Ablaze hired Pu-Od et al. to work in its project located at Roces Avenue, Quezon City (QC Project), specifically for the finishing phase. Thereafter, a project engineer of Ablaze allegedly told Pu-Od et al. that they are already terminated from their employment because there was no more work to be done, even if in reality, the phase on which they were working on was not yet completed.

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Aggrieved by the verbal dismissal, Pu-Od et al. filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, against Ablaze, et al. before the Labor Arbiter (LA). Pu-Od et al. admitted that they no longer chose to be reinstated due to the strained relationship of the parties.

Pu-Od et al. averred, among others, that Ablaze, et al. unceremoniously terminated their employment without giving them an opportunity to explain their side. They maintained that they are entitled to their money claims.

Ablaze, et al., on the other hand, alleged that the company did not terminate Pu-Od et al.’s employment, but rather, this is a case of abandonment of work on the part of Pu-Od et al. Ablaze, et al. likewise claimed that sometime in February 2014, after the resignation of its project site engineer, Pu-Od et al. stopped appearing for work, which caused delay in the turnover of the project to Ablaze’s client.

Consequently, Ablaze, had not yet been fully paid by its client due to discussions on penalties. Ablaze made efforts in communicating with Pu-Od et al., specifically, through complainant Layaona, but to no avail. As a result, Ablaze was compelled to engage the services of other personnel for the completion of the QC project.

Ablaze, et al. further alleged that the company never heard from Pu-Od et al. again, except on the information given by Engr. Calma to the effect that Pu-Od et al. have already accepted employment at another construction company. Ablaze, et al. submitted the affidavits of Engr. Calma and Engr. Pedro Bacalso, Jr. (Engr. Bacalso, Jr.) who were the project site engineers at the time Pu-Od et al. were assigned to the QC project.

The engineers denied under oath that either of them informed Pu-Od et al. of their alleged verbal dismissal.

LA Ruling:

The LA rendered a decision against Pu-Od et al., thereby dismissing their complaint. The LA ruled that there was no dismissal, actual or constructive, committed by Ablaze, et al., since Pu-Od et al. have failed to substantiate their allegation of the fact of dismissal. The LA denied their money claims.

Pu-Od et al. filed a Memorandum of Appeal with Notice of Appeal before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), questioning the LA’s decision.

NLRC Ruling;

The NLRC issued a resolution, in favor of Pu-Od et al., thereby reversing the LA’s decision. The NLRC held Ablaze, et al. liable to pay Pu-Od et al. their backwages and separation pay.

Ablaze, et al. filed a Motion for Extension of Time to File Motion for Reconsideration with Substitution of Counsel, stating therein that: (1) they received a copy of the NLRC’s decision on July 31, 2015; (2) they terminated the legal services of their previous lawyer, Atty. Michael M. Racelis, and hired Malcolm Law as their new counsel; and, (3) due to lack of material time, volume and pressure of work, they cannot complete the motion within the period allowed by the 2011 NLRC Rules of Procedure.

Subsequently, Ablaze, et al. filed a Motion for Reconsideration, on August 20, 2015, arguing, among others, that: since there was no proper service of Pu-Od et al.’s Memorandum of Appeal with Notice of Appeal to Ablaze, et al., there was no perfected appeal, hence, the LA’s decision has attained finality; Pu-Od et al. proffered no evidence that they were either dismissed from employment or that they were prevented from returning to work or otherwise deprived of any work assignment; and, Pu-Od et al. are not entitled to backwages and separation pay since they failed to prove that they were illegally dismissed.

Both motions, however, were denied by the NLRC. The NLRC ruled that the motion for extension was denied since the substitution of counsel was not a valid ground to extend the period to file a motion for reconsideration. Consequently, the motion for reconsideration proper was deemed to have been filed out of time.

Unfazed, Ablaze, et al. elevated the matter to the CA by filing a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, urgently praying for a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Writ of Preliminary lnjunction.

CA Ruling:

The CA rendered a decision granting the petition and reversing the NLRC decision.

The CA brushed aside technicalities and ruled that the NLRC is given the discretion to exercise liberality to enable it to ascertain the facts of the case speedily and objectively without any ill intent to wear out the laborer’s resources. The CA found that Ablaze, et al. were not in any way motivated to unnecessarily delay the resolution of the case. The CA likewise ruled that Pu-Od et al. failed to establish the fact of their dismissal and that they abandoned their employment.

Ablaze, et al.’s motion for reconsideration was denied. Thus, they filed the petition before the SC.


Whether or not parties must bear their own loss in cases where there is no dismissal and no abandonment of work

SC Ruling:

The SC did not find merit in the petition.

In cases where there is both an absence of illegal dismissal on the part of the employer and an absence of abandonment on the part of the employees, the remedy is reinstatement but without backwages.

However, considering that the reinstatement was already impossible by reason of the strained relations of the parties, and the fact that Pu-Od et al. already found another employment, each party must bear his or her own loss, thus, placing them on equal footing.

Based on the doctrines embodied in the cases of MZR Industries, et.al. vs. Colambot and Borja et al. vs. Randy B. Miiioza et al., the SC ruled that Pu-Od et al. are not entitled to the award of backwages and separation pay.

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