Strained relations must be demonstrated as a fact. It must be adequately supported by substantial evidence showing that the relationship between the employer and the employee is indeed strained as a necessary consequence of the judicial controversy.
Thus, the SC held in the following case:
Lino A. Fernandez, Jr. vs. Manila Electric Company (MERALCO)
G.R. No. 226002, June 25, 2018
Appeal; No appeal from the Order of LA during execution; Liberal application of the rules to prevent injustice and grave or irreparable damage or injury; Reinstatement; Strained relations; Strained relations must be demonstrated as a fact; Strained relationship may be invoked only against employees whose positions demand trust and confidence; Retirement benefits; Separation pay in lieu of reinstatement; Retirement and separation pay are not mutually exclusive; Attorney’s fees; Dispositive portion of Decision; Writ of Execution; The decision where the dispositive portion does not grant attorney’s fees and became final and executory is immutable and unalterable;
The SC held that an illegally dismissed employee is entitled to reinstatement as a matter of right. The award of separation pay is a mere exception to the rule. It is made an alternative relief in lieu of reinstatement in certain circumstances, like: (a) when reinstatement can no longer be effected in view of the passage of a long period of time or because of the realities of the situation; (b) reinstatement is inimical to the employer’s interest; (c) reinstatement is no longer feasible; ( d) reinstatement does not serve the best interests of the parties involved; ( e) the employer is prejudiced by the workers’ continued employment; (f) facts that make execution unjust or inequitable have supervened; or (g) strained relations between the employer and employee.
Under the doctrine of strained relations, the payment of separation pay is considered an acceptable alternative to reinstatement when the latter option is no longer desirable or viable. On one hand, such payment liberates the employee from what could be a highly oppressive work environment. On the other hand, it releases the employer from the grossly unpalatable obligation of maintaining in its employ a worker it could no longer trust.
The SC ruled that the doctrine of strained relations should not be used recklessly or applied loosely nor be based on impression alone. It cannot be applied indiscriminately since every labor dispute almost invariably results in “strained relations;” otherwise, reinstatement can never be possible simply because some hostility is engendered between the parties as a result of their disagreement. Strained relations must be demonstrated as a fact. It must be adequately supported by substantial evidence showing that the relationship between the employer and the employee is indeed strained as a necessary consequence of the judicial controversy.
Reinstatement cannot be barred especially when the employee has not indicated an aversion to returning to work, or does not occupy a position of trust and confidence in, or has no say in the operation of, the employer’s business. Here, Fernandez’s intent and willingness to be reinstated to his former position is evident as early as July 10, 2008 when he filed his Comment with Motion for Re-computation of Monetary Award. He reiterated this on December 17, 2008 in his Urgent Motion to require MERALCO to reinstate him and on January 21, 2009 in his Comment/Opposition to MERALCO’s motion to declare full satisfaction of his monetary awards.
MERALCO conveniently claimed that the filing of the case, which had dragged for a long period of time, severed the employee-employer relationship; hence, Fernandez’s reinstatement was no longer feasible. Later, it echoed the reasoning of LA Suarez by contending that his alleged participation in the illegal strike definitely tainted the relations of the parties.
The bare allegations of MERALCO, which later on became the basis of a mere presumption on the part of LA Suarez, appear to be without any factual basis. To stress, strained relationship may be invoked only against employees whose positions demand trust and confidence, or whose differences with their employer are of such nature or degree as to preclude reinstatement. Here, the confidential relationship between Fernandez, as a supervisory employee, and MERALCO has not been established. For lack of evidence on record, it appears that his designation as a Leadman was not a sensitive position as would require complete trust and confidence, and where personal ill will would foreclose his reinstatement.