Almirante: Basketball referee: Nor Eplloyee

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Friday, November 4, 2011


Dominador Almirante
Labor case digest

PETITIONER Jose Mel Bernate worked as one of the referees of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). He entered into two contracts as a retainer with the PBA in the year 2003. The first contract was for Jan. 1, 2003 to July 15, 2003; and the second was for Sept. 1 to December 2003.

After the lapse of the later period, PBA decided not to renew his contract, citing his unsatisfactory performance on and off the court.

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Maintaining he is a regular employee, Bernate filed a complaint for illegal dismissal against PBA. Did his case prosper?

Ruling: No.

We agree with respondents that once on the playing court, the referees exercise their own independent judgment, based on the rules of the game, as to when and how a call or decision is to be made. The referees decide whether an infraction was committed, and the PBA cannot overrule them once the decision is made on the playing court.

The referees are the only, absolute, and final authority on the playing court.

Respondents or any of the PBA officers cannot and do not determine which calls to make or not to make and cannot control the referee when he blows the whistle because such authority exclusively belongs to the referees. The very nature of petitioner’s job of officiating a professional basketball game undoubtedly calls for freedom of control by respondents.

Moreover, the following circumstances indicate that petitioner is an independent contractor: (1) the referees are required to report for work only when PBA games are scheduled, which is three times a week spread over an average of only 105 playing days a year, and they officiate games at an average of two hours per game; and (2) the only deductions from the fees received by the referees are withholding taxes.

In other words, unlike regular employees who ordinarily report for work eight hours per day for five days a week, petitioner is required to report for work only when PBA games are scheduled or three times a week at two hours per game. In addition, there are no deductions for contributions to the Social Security System, Philhealth or Pag-Ibig, which are the usual deductions from employees’ salaries. These undisputed circumstances buttress the fact that petitioner is an independent contractor, and not an employee of respondents. (Jose Mel Bernarte vs. Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), et. al., G.R. No. 192084, Sept. 14, 2011)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on November 05, 2011.

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