Just cause is one of the aspects of substantive due process required in employee dismissal. Serious misconduct, willful disobedience of an employer’s lawful order, and fraud, being just causes for dismissal, all imply the presence of “willfulness” or “wrongful intent” on the part of the employee.
Thus, the Supreme Court held in the following case:
Bookmedia Press, Inc. vs. Sinajon
G.R. No. 213009, July 17, 2019
Serious misconduct; The just causes of serious misconduct, willful disobedience of an employer’s lawful order, and fraud all imply the presence of “willfulness” or “wrongful intent” on the part of the employee; Dishonesty; Dishonesty is the disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness; disposition to defraud, deceive or betray; The just causes of serious misconduct, willful disobedience of an employer’s lawful order, and fraud all imply the presence of “willfulness” or “wrongful intent” on the part of the employee
Petitioner et al. Bookmedia Press, Inc. (Bookmedia) is a local printing company. Bookmedia, et al. Benito J. Brizuela (Brizuela), on the other hand, is the president of Bookmedia. Bookmedia and Brizuela are referred to in this digest as “Bookmedia, et al.”
Bookmedia hired Respondents Yanly Abenir (Abenir) and Leonardo Sinajon (Sinajon) [Sinajon, et al.] as in-house security personnel.
On July 20, 1997, Brizuela received a report from one Larry Valdoz (Valdoz), a security guard of Bookmedia, which claims that Sinajon, et al., earlier in the day, had left the company premises moments after punching-in their respective time cards. The report also alleges that Sinajon returned on the evening of the same day and punched-out his and Abenir’s time cards.
After receiving such report, Brizuela immediately summoned both Sinajon, et al. for an explanation. Sinajon, et al., however, apparently ignored Brizuela. The following morning, however, Sinajon, et al. submitted their letters-explanations to Brizuela. In the letters, the Sinajon, et al. admitted to punching-in their time cards and then leaving work early on July 20, 1997, but explained that they merely did so because they had to attend to some emergency in their respective homes on that day.
For Abenir, he stated that he left early because he received a call from his wife urging him to come home immediately because his brother was in trouble. Respondent Abenir said he left work at around 5:00 p.m., but as he forgot to punch-out his time card, he asked another person to do it for him.
For Sinajon, he stated that he had to leave work early because of a call informing him that the roof of his house was destroyed and, as a storm is impending, is in urgent need of repair. Sinajon said that he also had to take care of his wife who was, at that time, suffering from a fever. He manifested that he tried to return to work immediately after attending to his concerns but, due to strong rains, was only able to make it back at around 6:00 p.m. He stayed and waited in the company premises until the arrival of his replacement, one named Abe.
The next day, Bookmedia fired both Sinajon, et al.. Contending that their firing has been effected without cause and observance of due process, the Sinajon, et al. filed before the Labor Arbiter (LA) a complaint for illegal dismissal against Bookmedia, et al.
The LA rendered a Decision finding as illegal the dismissal of the Sinajon, et al. due to the failure of the Bookmedia, et al. to prove otherwise.
The LA pointed out that Bookmedia, et al. really presented no evidence to support their accusation that Sinajon, et al. have repeatedly been leaving work early after punching-in their time cards.
The LA opined that a single instance of said infraction cannot be considered as a just cause for the dismissal of the Sinajon, et al.; the penalty itself being too harsh given the circumstances. According to the LA, a “written reprimand with a warning that commission of the same offense would be dealt with more severely” would have been the reasonable penalty to impose against the Sinajon, et al..
Verily, the LA ordered the Bookmedia, et al. to, among others, reinstate the Sinajon, et al. without loss of seniority rights and pay them backwages. The Bookmedia, et al. appealed to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).
The NLRC issued a Decision denying, on the merits, the appeal of the Bookmedia, et al. and affirming the LA decision. Bookmedia, et al. next filed a petition for certiorari before the CA.
The CA rendered a Decision dismissing Bookmedia, et al.’s certiorari petition and affirming the NLRC decision. Bookmedia, et al. moved for reconsideration, but the CA remained steadfast.
Hence, the Petition for Review before the SC.
Whether or not having another person punch-out one’s own timecard as he forgot to do so after having completed work constitutes dishonesty that would warrant dismissal from service
Whether or not the act of leaving the work early without authority and in violation of company policy due to home emergencies can be characterized as wanton desire to transgress the policy and constitutes serious misconduct or willful disobedience
The SC denied the petition.
The SC held that in Ha Yuan Restaurant vs. NLRC, serious misconduct as just cause for dismissal is defined as 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 of judgment.
In Gold City Integrated Port Services, Inc. (INPORT) vs. NLRC, on the other hand, we described what willful disobedience of an employer’s lawful order entails. That is, the employee’s assailed conduct must have been willful or intentional, the willfulness being characterized by a wrongful and perverse attitude.
Lastly, in National Power Corp. vs. Olandesca, we elucidated upon the concept of dishonesty -an allied notion of fraud –as the disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness; disposition to defraud, deceive or betray.
The just causes of serious misconduct, willful disobedience of an employer’s lawful order, and fraud all imply the presence of “willfulness” or “wrongful intent” on the part of the employee. Hence, serious misconduct and willful disobedience of an employer’s lawful order may only be appreciated when the employee’s transgression of a rule, duty or directive has been the product of “wrongful intent” or of a “wrongful and perverse attitude,” but not when the same transgression results from simple negligence or “mere error in judgment.”
In the same vein, fraud and dishonesty can only be used to justify the dismissal of an employee when the latter commits a dishonest act that reflects a disposition to deceive, defraud and betray his employer.
The requirement of willfulness or wrongful intent in the appreciation of the aforementioned just causes, in turn, underscores the intent of the law to reserve only to the gravest infractions the ultimate penalty of dismissal. It is essential that the infraction committed by an employee is serious, not merely trivial, and be reflective of a certain degree of depravity or ineptitude on the employee’s part, in order for the same to be a valid basis for the termination of his employment.
The Sinajon, et al.’s act of leaving the workplace early, though unauthorized and violative of company time policy, was certainly not motivated by any wanton desire to transgress said policy. As explained by the Sinajon, et al. in their letters, they only felt compelled to leave work early on July 20, 1997 because of emergencies they had to address in their respective homes. Viewed in such context, the failure of the Sinajon, et al. to seek permission prior to leaving early could thus be attributed to a momentary lapse of judgment on their part, rather than to some design to circumvent Bookmedia’s time policy. For this reason, such transgression of a company policy cannot be characterized either as serious misconduct or a willful disobedience of the employer’s order.
While Abenir may have also committed dishonesty when he had another person punch-out his (Abenir’s) time card later in the day of July 20, 1997, we find that the same may be somewhat mitigated by the fact that Abenir did render work up until 5:00 p.m. of the same day. As Abenir explained, he only asked another person to punch-out his (Abenir’s) time card because he forgot to do so when he left work at around 5:00 p.m. of July 20, 1997. Certainly, given such background, the dishonest act of Abenir does not equate to the fraud contemplated by the law that could warrant the imposition of the penalty of dismissal.
In The Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corp. vs. NLRC, we reminded that the penalty of dismissal authorized under the Labor Code should not be imposed on just “any act of dishonesty” committed by an employee, but only upon those whose depravity is commensurate to such penalty.
But at the same time, we cannot permit the imposition of the maximum penalty authorized by our labor laws for JUST ANY act of dishonesty, in the same manner that death, which is now reinstated as the supreme sanction under the penal laws of our country, is not to be imposed for just any killing. The penalty imposed must be commensurate to the depravity of the malfeasance, violation or crime being punished. A grave injustice is committed in the name of justice when the penalty imposed is grossly disproportionate to the wrong committed.
On the other hand, no similar dishonesty could be attributed against Sinajon. Sinajon never admitted to punching-out his time card upon returning at 6:00 p.m. of July 20, 1997. Neither is there evidence on record that proves that he did. Hence, Sinajon cannot be said to have deceived Bookmedia with respect to his actual working hours on July 20, 1997.
All in all, and considering the fact that this is the first and only time that the Sinajon, et al. had committed any infraction against Bookmedia, we are constrained to approve the liberal stance of the LA, the NLRC and the CA. Sinajon, et al. have been illegally dismissed.