Life is like a box of chocolates
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - October 25, 2020 - 12:00am

Tom Hanks was conferred more than a dozen international awards for playing the lead role in “Forrest Gump”, a very successful film translated and shown in more than a hundred countries. And most famous line spoken in that movie was “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.”

I used this phrase as my opening line, with apologies to the owner of the intellectual property, in my decision, as a voluntary arbitrator. It’s about a supervisory employee in a five-star Makati hotel who was dismissed from his job without separation pay, after working there for 27 years. The cause for termination was his rather reckless act of eating a box of chocolate worth less than P1,000. He was already getting more than P40,000 monthly gross compensation. In about three to four years, he would be retiring and stood to get more than P3 million, at the very least, as retirement pay.

Since that person was the hotel supervisory union president, the whole union threatened to go on strike. Management was concerned because this hotel has had a history of strikes and protracted labor disputes. I was chosen by both parties as the voluntary arbitrator. Under the law, even when I’m no longer in government, since I have a lifetime accreditation signed by the DOLE secretary, I have the official authority to hear and decide a labor dispute. And so, I conducted a series of hearings inside the hotel itself, with the lawyers of both sides appearing and I conducted the proceedings formally.

That man, let us just call him Donald (not Trump) was head of the concierge, and he worked daily in one corner in the hotel lobby. One day, a young Russian, Ogur, left a box of chocolates with instruction that his Filipino boyfriend Dexter would pick it up within the day. Ogur was checking out and rushing to catch his flight. Forty-eight hours passed and Dexter didn’t come. Donald was worried because there is a strict hotel protocol directing that all food items should be disposed of if unclaimed within two days. Donald, the union president thoughtlessly interpreted the phrase “to dispose of” to mean that he can eat the chocolates. Which he did.

Then came Dexter, a Filipino hunk, who demanded the chocolates. Thus the matter reached management. To shorten, the long story, Donald was charged, investigated, found guilty, and dismissed. It became my power to decide as an arbitrator to resolve if the termination of his employment was legal. I decided that what Donald did was wrong. He deserved to be punished but termination was too harsh. A suspension of five days was enough as commensurate to the gravity of the offense. It wasn’t really stealing but a reckless error in judgment. Donald was not a bad guy, otherwise, he would not have lasted 27 years. He was only a careless man. Therefore I ordered the hotel to reinstate him with full backwages, minus the salary for five days. He was reinstated in the payroll only, getting his salary without working. The hotel filed an appeal.

By the way, Ogur came back. He and Dexter testified in favor of Donald and said he should not lose his job just for a box of chocolates. To make it up to Donald, the two lovers are vacationing in Moscow by Christmas, (too cold, up there by then) and Donald will be with them. I was invited too. But it is unethical for an arbitrator. To think that all these started with a box of chocolates.

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