Security of tenure
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - February 13, 2019 - 12:00am

Under our Constitution (Section 18, Article II) and the Labor Code (Article 3), workers are guaranteed security of tenure. They can be terminated from service only for a valid cause supported by substantial evidence and after due process where they are afforded the opportunity to be heard and to present their defense. But who has the burden of proving that there is a valid cause for dismissal? If the employer has this burden to prove it but fails to do so, can the worker be still validly dismissed? What are the grounds for the valid dismissal of a worker? These questions are answered in this case.

This case involves April who started working as the personal assistant and interpreter of Mr. Lim, the owner and administrative manager of the “Serenity SPA Center” After only a month of employment April was already promoted to the position of Administrative Manager because of the positive changes she introduced which resulted in the increased business of the SPA center.

Later on however after working only for about four months, she was already asked to go on leave with pay for one month. And then when she returned for work, Mr. and Mrs. Lim asked her to resign already. April initially refused but was informed that she could no longer continue working at the SPA. So that same afternoon, April went to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and filed a case for illegal dismissal against Mr. Lim and the Serenity SPA Center.

According to April, she used to be employed by another SPA center where Mr. Lim was a client. She said that Mr. Lim was apparently impressed by her performance. So when he established Serenity, he convinced her to transfer. Initially, she said she was reluctant to accept Lim’s offer because she already had a stable job at the other SPA Center where she had been working for seven years. But Lim was persistent and offered her a higher pay. Hence she was enticed to resign and to transfer to Serenity.

April further recounted that she was asked to leave her office because Lim and a Feng Shui master were exploring the premises. And when she returned after taking a leave of absence, she was asked to resign because her aura did not match that of Lim and she was a mismatch in Lim’s business according to the Feng Shui Master.

In reply, Serenity and Lim denied illegally dismissing April. They said that two months after she was hired, they received various complaints against her from the employees so they advised her to take a leave of absence as they investigated the complaints. And based on the results of the investigation, they dismissed April for loss of trust and confidence.

The Labor Arbiter (LA) found Lim and Serenity’s dismissal for loss of trust and confidence more probable and thus dismissed April’s complaint. The LA found the contentions of April dubious and hard to believe especially about the findings of the Feng Shui Master. This ruling was affirmed by the NLRC citing as additional ground that April’s filing of the case was premature as Serenity was still considering the proper action to take when she did so.

However, the Court of Appeals (CA) reversed and set aside the LA and NLRC decision. This ruling was affirmed by the Supreme Court (SC) which found April’s complaint credible as there is consistency in her pleadings and evidence in contrast to Serenity’s evidence which, taken as a whole, suffer from inconsistency. According to the SC, April’s narration of the events surrounding her termination from employment was simple and straightforward. Her claims are more credible than the affidavits of Serenity’s witnesses which are mere photocopies and were not under oath. The SC further ruled that to be a valid cause of termination of employment, the acts constituting the breach of trust must have been done intentionally, knowingly and purposely; and they must be founded on clearly established facts. The employer bears the burden of proving that the dismissal of the employee was for a valid cause. Its failure to discharge this burden renders the dismissal unjustified and therefore illegal.

But considering that the relations between April and her employer have become strained and April is not insisting on being reinstated, the SC said that she should just be paid separation pay equivalent to one month salary for every year of service. And also considering that there is no finding of bad faith or malice on the part of Lim, he should not be held jointly liable with Serenity for terminating April’s employment. Hence only Serenity should pay April’s full back-wages, privileges and benefits or their money equivalent, as well as separation pay reckoned from the date of her dismissal up to the finality of the decision, plus moral damages of P50,000, exemplary damage of P25,000 and P20,000 attorney’s fees (Wensha SPA Center and/or Xu Zhi Jie vs. Yung, G.R. 188122, April 16, 2010).

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