Monday July 16, 2018

Almirante: Award of back wages

PETITIONER Ramil R. Valenzuela filed a complaint for illegal dismissal and money claims against respondents Alexandra Mining and Oil Ventures, Inc. (AMOVI) and its owner and president, Cesar E. Detera.

He alleged that he was hired as a company driver of AMOVI on Jan. 12, 2008, with an eight-hour work shift from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and with a monthly salary of P12,000.

On June 15, 2013, he was told that he can no longer continue to work, as there were no forthcoming funds to pay for his salary.

Upon the other hand, respondents avered that petitioner was actually hired as a family driver of the Deteras. They denied having dismissed petitioner from the service.

The Labor Arbiter (LA) dismissed respondents’ claim that petitioner was a family driver. She found him illegally dismissed and awarded him full backwages, separation pay and attorney’s fees. The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) affirmed the decision of the LA.

The Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the decision of the NLRC with modification deleting the award of backwages.

In justification, the CA ruled that there was no clear evidence that petitioner was dismissed and, on the other hand, there was an equal lack of proof of abandonment of work on his part. Did the CA err in deleting the award of backwages?

Ruling: Yes.

The CA, however, erred in holding that there was no evidence of dismissal, as it is clear from Cesar’s own admission that Valenzuela was unceremoniously dismissed from service. In all his pleadings, while claiming to be the real employer of Valenzuela, Cesar impliedly admitted dismissing him from employment by repeatedly invoking Article 150 of the Labor Code to justify his action. The provision reads as follows:

Art. 150. Service of termination notice. If the duration of the household service is not determined either in stipulation or by nature of the service, the employer or the househelper may give notice to put an end to the relationship five (5) days before the intended termination of the service.

On the basis of the foregoing provision, Cesar asseverated that as a family driver, Valenzuela’s service may be terminated at will by his employer. Thus, there is implied admission that he indeed terminated Valenzuela out of his own volition, without sufficient ground and notice.

Unfortunately for Cesar, the labor tribunals and the CA all agreed that Valenzuela was a company employee and his admission on the fact of the latter’s dismissal only established that it was done without regard to substantive and procedural due process.

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Consistent with the finding that Valenzuela had been illegally dismissed, he is, therefore, entitled to reinstatement and full backwages. In view, however, of the strained relations between the parties, the award of separation pay in lieu of reinstatement is a more feasible alternative. (Reyes, J; SC 3rd Division, Ramil R. Valenzuela vs. Alexandra Mining and Oil Ventures, Inc. and Cesar E. De Tera, G.R. No. 222419, October 5, 2016).