Employers have no powers over the employees' affairs of the heart

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Josephus Jimenez - The Freeman

May management legally fire an employee due to marriage or pregnancy? The answer is an emphatic NO. Both the law and the Supreme Court decisions have condemned employers over and over again for dismissing employees simply due to marriage or pregnancy. International conventions, like the CEDAW or the international Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discriminations Against Women forbid any contract stipulations against both marriage and pregnancy.

The Labor Code is clear on this. Article 134, Book Three of the Code explicitly declares that it is unlawful (meaning employers can be jailed for violation) for an employer to require as a condition for employment or for continuation of employment that a woman employee shall not get married. It is also forbidden to stipulate tacitly or explicitly that upon marriage a woman employee shall be deemed resigned or dismissed. Under Article 135, it’s also unlawful to fire employees due to pregnancy. Any written undertaking or side agreement containing promises along these lines, even involving flight stewardesses, are deemed null and void and thus will be thrown out by all courts, Labor arbiters, NLRC commissioners, the DOLE secretary and regional directors.

In the case involving Saudi Arabia Airline (GR 198587, January 14, 2015), the Supreme Court declared that management committed illegal dismissal when it compelled the flight stewardesses to resign due to marriage and pregnancy. In another airline case, Pakistan Airline (GR 61594, September 28, 1990), the airline was held guilty of illegal dismissal for the same reason, even when the employee signed an undertaking to resign if she got married or pregnant. In the case of PT & T (GR 118978, May 23, 1997) management was declared guilty of illegal dismissal for pressuring a pregnant woman to resign. In another case, the Brent Hospital and Colleges fired an employee for pregnancy without marriage (GR187417, February 24, 2016). The dismissal was declared illegal by the Supreme Court.

In a case involving an exclusive school for girls, a female employee was fired for pregnancy without prior marriage (the boy married her after the child was born). The sisters insisted that marriage should come first before pregnancy and relied on the School Manual and the Manual for Private Schools issued by DepEd and CHED, classifying those acts as immoral and disgraceful. But the Supreme Court held that religious immorality cannot be imposed in a secular situation. The same ruling was issued in the case of St. Vincent Foundation for Children (GR 2012621, June 22, 2016). Pregnancy, based on secular norms in this generation is no longer offensive when the man and the woman are both single and didn’t conduct their amorous relationship scandalously.

When I was a young Labor arbiter in 1977 assigned by then Secretary Blas Ople and NLRC Chairman Alberto Veloso here in Cebu, I handled the same case involving a female cashier of an exclusive Catholic school. She got pregnant after her OFW boyfriend vacationed here in Cebu. The cashier was fired by the religious congregation for allegedly setting a very bad example for the girls who were scions of rich and influential families. There were many influential officials who encouraged me to decide the case against the employee and in favor of the school. But I stood my ground and declared the dismissal illegal. I became the wedding sponsor of that cashier and her beloved and she reconciled with the school. She migrated to Canada to join her husband and they are now quite rich. She donates regularly to the employees’ cooperative and sends lavish gifts to the sisters whom she had forgiven.

There was a case in Bacolod involving a 30-year-old teacher who fell in love with her 16-year-old pupil. They got married with the boy's parents' consent. The school administrator fired her due to the complaint of the other parents. You can check this out, Case number 49549, Chua-Qua vs. Clave, August 30, 1990. The Supreme Court said the school committed illegal dismissal. Justice Florenz Regalado who penned the ruling said: "The heart has reasons of its own which reason does not know. Yielding to the gentle emotion of love should not be equated with immorality.”

Indeed, who are we to judge them? What beautiful ending would a story have but a wedding after which they lived happily ever after? The employer has no power over the territory of the employees' hearts. Love is their exclusive domain beyond the reach of management prerogative, much less by the power to discipline.

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