When workplace love collide with employers' prerogative to discipline

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty Josephus Jimenez - The Freeman

Today, hundreds of HR managers and company owners, general managers, and operations staff are attending my online session on Love, Sex, Romance and Immorality in the Workplace. We are spending half of this day of love and lovers, trying to establish a boundary between pure and decent romantic relationships among co-employees and the management prerogatives to discipline and even dismiss offenders for crossing the line.

I have written two volumes on this topic and my books are now being sold by the country's leading publisher of HR and law books. In today's seminar and in those twin volumes, I discuss actual cases involving more than 50 decisions by the Supreme Court where managers have been fired for sexually harassing subordinates. But most of the cases involved pure love and decent relationships and the companies were held liable for illegal dismissal. The Supreme Court held that even in exclusive religious schools, the administrators cannot legally fire female employees for pregnancy without prior marriage. The Supreme Court differentiated between religious immorality and secular impropriety.

In a case involving St. Scholastica in Westgrove, Laguna, the nuns fired a non-teaching lady personnel for having become pregnant by her unmarried boyfriend. The sisters were acting in good faith because the manual of private schools as well as the school manual were very clear that such a behavior was deemed an immoral act and a disgraceful conduct calling for termination of employment. The arbiter, the NLRC, and the Court of Appeals decided in favor of the school, but the Supreme Court reversed the ruling and declared that the nuns should not impose the very strict standards of religious immorality. The proper basis would be the less-demanding secular immorality which does not consider pregnancy resulting from a relationship between two unmarried lovers as disgraceful or immoral.

The St. Scholastica ruling was also the same as that of Brent International School and Hospital where an HR manager was indefinitely suspended due to pregnancy out of wedlock. The school administration told the girl that she could come back to work only after she married the father of her child. The Supreme Court considered that act of management illegal. The same decision was reached in three other cases of pregnancies without marriage in institutions managed by religious orders. There were many others where the management even came up with policies prohibiting marriage between co-employees and pregnancies. In the case of Saudi Arabia Airlines, flight stewardesses were declared illegally dismissed when the airline forced them to resign due to marriage or pregnancy.

These decisions were consistent with the classic case in a Chinese school in Bacolod where a 30-year-old female teacher became in love with her 14-year-old male pupil, and they eventually married with the parental consent of the boy's parents. The school fired the teacher. The highest court declared that the dismissal was illegal. Justice Florenz Regalado, the former dean of San Beda Law where I had my pre-week review before I took the Bar, wrote a classic line in that decision: "The heart has reasons of its own which reason itself does not know."

Therefore, management should be very careful in making distinctions between pure and decent love on one hand, and immoral and disgraceful employee behavior on the other hand. Today in our online seminar and in my two books, I discuss these delicate things very carefully and, if I may say, beautifully. You can catch me for free via my YouTube channel: Usec JBJ. You will learn some nuggets of wisdom in labor law, love, and life. The best things in life are free.

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