Two Catholic schools declared guilty of illegal dismissal
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty Josephus Jimenez (The Freeman) - September 30, 2018 - 12:00am

Two Catholic schools lost their cases before the Supreme Court. The SC ruled that management was too harsh and unforgiving to their employees in administrating discipline. To protect the honor of these institutions, we are not disclosing the case title but they are under case numbers GR 222317, 24 January 2018 and GR 213128, 07 February 2018. This is to guide HR managers, union leaders, lawyers for both management, and labor in their research, consultation, and advocacy.

Case 1 involves a school managed by religious sisters that run at least five universities and hundreds of colleges, high schools, and parochial institutions. The sisters dismissed two pre-school teachers who went on extended medical leaves, one to undergo a fertility test in Canada, and the other for scoliosis surgery. Both leaves had prior permission. When they reported back new teachers had taken their places. The SC ruled illegal constructive dismissal. Full backwages and separation pay were awarded, including moral and exemplary damages and attorney's fees. I feel sad about the damages because I am sure the sisters acted in good faith.

Case 2 involves another school that dismissed its chief accountant for suspected dishonesty. Two investigating committees found her guilty and recommended dismissal. Management terminated her services after 20 years of service without prior derogatory record. The SC declared the termination illegal and ordered payment of full backwages and separation pay to the tune of almost P10 million. No moral and exemplary damages were awarded in the second case.

The lessons to be learned here is that religious administrators should hire experts to handle HR and administrative investigations. No matter how much good faith the management had in these two cases, the SC found loopholes in their application of the Labor Code. In case 1, there was harshness in the dismissal. But in fairness to management, the two were not dismissed, only transferred. But they considered their transfer as dismissal. In case 2, there was no direct evidence to warrant a guilty finding. The chief accountant's fault was only negligence which was neither gross nor habitual. I think the second school deserves the adverse ruling. I am sad for the first school.

As a lawyer I agree with the rulings, as a consultant of a number of Catholic schools I sympathize with the administrators caught between the forces of the congregation, pressure from the faculty unions, and the many impositions and interferences by government. Running a school is not something for the incompetent. I am very sure the school in case 1 is an excellently-managed university system. But the SC still found it wanting. I can help them if ever they need some assistance, but legal ethics forbid me to interfere because they are represented by counsel. Pity.


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