Security of tenure
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - February 27, 2019 - 12:00am

Under our Constitution (Section 18, Article II) and the Labor Code (Article III), all workers are guaranteed the right to security of tenure. This means that they can be validly terminated from service only for a valid cause supported by substantial evidence and after due process or after the workers are afforded the opportunity to be heard and to present their defense. Who has the burden of proving that the dismissal of an employee is for a valid cause? If the employer fails to discharge this burden, can the worker be still validly dismissed? What are the grounds for the valid dismissal of a worker? These are the questions answered in this case of April.

April 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 after working 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 Lim and his wife, Mrs. Lim asked her to resign from Serenity SPA. 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 (Marbel) where Mr. Lim was a client. She declared that Lim was apparently impressed by her performance. And when Lim established SPA, he convinced her to transfer. She said that she was initially reluctant to accept Lim’s offer because she had already a stable job at Marbel where she had been working for seven years already. But Lim was persistent and offered her a higher pay. Hence she was enticed and resigned from Marbel then transferred to SPA.

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, SPA and Lim denied illegally dismissing April. They claimed 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.

The Court of Appeals (CA) reversed and set aside the LA and NLRC decision dismissing April’s complaint. 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 SPA’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.

Considering however that the relations between April and her employer have become strained and April is not insisting on being reinstated, she should 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 solidarily liable with SPA for terminating April’s employment. Hence SPA should pay April her full back wages, privileges and benefits or their money equivalent, and separation pay reckoned from the date of her dismissal up to the finality of the decision, plus moral damages of P50,000, exemplary damages 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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