(Sequel to the April 17, 2021 issue’s “Extra Waters Are Regular Employees”)

Petitioner Allan Regala was hired by respondent Manila Hotel Corp. (MHC) sometime in 2000 as one of its waiters assigned to the Food and Beverage Department. He was later assigned as cook helper at MHC’s Chocolate Room/Cookies Kitchen during the period from Oct. 18, 2004 to June 26, 2006. He alleged that he was not recognized as a regular rank-and-file employee despite having rendered services to MHC for several years. Thus, he filed a complaint for regularization, constructive dismissal and money claims against respondent MHC.

Upon the other hand, MHC denied outright that Regala is its regular employee. His employment was for a fixed term. It depended heavily on Regala’s Service Agreements covering the periods of his supposed temporary engagement with MHC, or from March 1, 2010 to March 3, 2010. It asserted that the Service Agreements entered into by and between MI-IC and Regala are valid for the following reasons: (1) the terms thereof are clear and bereft of ambiguity; (2) the duration or terms of Regala’s employment as indicated in the Service Agreements were determined and made known to him before each engagement; and (3) the Service Agreements were freely entered into by both parties.

The Court of Appeals (CA) upheld MHC’s contention that Regala was a fixed-term employee.

Did the CA err

Ruling: Yes.

A fixed-term employment, while not expressly mentioned in the Labor Code, has been recognized by this Court as a type of employment “embodied in a contract specifying that the services of the employee shall be engaged only for a definite period, the termination of which occurs upon the expiration of said period irrespective of the existence of just cause and regardless of the activity the employee is called upon to perform.” Along the same lines, it has been held that “the fixed-term character of employment essentially refers to the period agreed upon between the employer and the employee.” Accordingly, “the decisive determinant in term employment should not be the activities that the employee is called upon to perform, but the day certain agreed upon by the parties for the commencement and termination of their employment relationship. Specification of the date of termination is significant because an employee’s employment shall cease upon termination date without need of notice.

In other words, a fixed-term employment contract which otherwise fails to specify the date of effectivity and the date of expiration of an employee’s engagement cannot, by virtue of jurisprudential pronouncement, be regarded as such despite its nomenclature or classification given by the parties. The employment contract may provide for or describe some other classification or type of employment depending on the circumstances, but it is not, properly speaking, a fixed-term employment contract.

We find that the three Service Agreements presented by MHC cannot be regarded as true fixed-term employment contracts. A perusal thereof shows that the term of Regala’s engagement with the hotel merely indicate the dates March 1, 2010, March 2, 20 l 0, and March 3, 2010 - all of which pertain only to specified effectivity dates of Regala’s engagement as waiter of MHC. The Service Agreements do not, however, unequivocally specify the periods of their expiration. Notably, even the very terms of the Service Agreements purportedly proving Regala’s fixed-term employment status are uncertain, if not altogether evasive of Regala’s actual period of employment with MHC, which, in this case, commenced as early as February 2000. It bears noting that the Service Agreements furnished by MHC do not even account for Regala’s employment for the previous years, especially at the time of Regala’s hiring in February 2000. On this point, it is incredulous, to say the least, that the hotel merely hired Regala under a fixed-term agreement since February 2000.

All things considered, the Service Agreements presented by MHC deserves scant consideration from this Court. Mere presentation thereof does not prove that Regala had been a mere fixed-term employee. The Court cannot simply rely on the vague provisions of the Service Agreements as proof of his fixed-term employment status. To do so would erroneously warrant their enforcement despite their apparent failure to express the tennis of Regala’s engagement as waiter since February 2000. (Allan Regala vs. Manila Hotel Corp. G.R. 204684, Oct. 5, 2020).