Award of separation pay even if dismissal is legal

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Persida Acosta

Dear Aleli,
The case of Julito Sagales vs Rustan’s Commercial Corporation (G.R. No. 166554, November 27, 2008) penned by former Associate Justice Ruben T. Reyes, is clearly applicable in the situation of your father. It granted the petition filed by the employee and ruled:

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“The free will of management to conduct its own business affairs to achieve its purpose cannot be denied. The only condition is that the exercise of management prerogatives should not be done in bad faith or with abuse of discretion. Truly, while the employer has the inherent right to discipline, including that of dismissing its employees, this prerogative is subject to the regulation by the State in the exercise of its police power.

“In this regard, it is a hornbook doctrine that infractions committed by an employee should merit only the corresponding penalty demanded by the circumstance. The penalty must be commensurate with the act, conduct or omission imputed to the employee and must be imposed in connection with the disciplinary authority of the employer.”

xxx xxx xxx

“In the case at bar, petitioner deserves compassion more than condemnation. At the end of the day, it is undisputed that: (1) petitioner has worked for respondent for almost 31 years; (2) his tireless and faithful service is attested by the numerous awards he has received from respondent; (3) the incident on June 18, 2001 was his first offense in his long years of service; (4) the value of the squid heads worth P50 is negligible; (5) respondent practically did not lose anything as the squid heads were considered scrap goods and usually thrown away in the wastebasket; (6) the ignominy and shame undergone by petitioner in being imprisoned, however momentary, is punishment in itself; and (7) petitioner was preventively suspended for one month, which is already a commensurate punishment for the infraction committed. Truly, petitioner has more than paid his due.

“In any case, it would be useless to order the reinstatement of petitioner, considering that he would have been retired by now. Thus, in lieu of reinstatement, it is but proper to award petitioner separation pay computed at one-month salary for every year of service, a fraction of at least six months considered as one whole year. In the computation of separation pay, the period where backwages are awarded must be included.”

In the case quoted above, the Supreme Court granted the petition of the employee considering the peculiar circumstances he is in. Assuming that your father is in equal footing and at square in the above-stated case, his dismissal, albeit legal and justified, may be found excessive by the Supreme Court. Hence, it may be unwarranted. But care should be taken, as the Supreme Court cautioned:

“We do not condone dishonesty. After all, honesty is the best policy. However, punishment should be commensurate with the offense committed. The supreme penalty of dismissal is the death penalty to the working man. Thus, care should be exercised by employers in imposing dismissal to erring employees. The penalty of dismissal should be availed of as a last resort.”

Quoting the exultation of labor by Justice Noah Haynes of the United States Supreme Court: “[l]abor is property, and as such merits protection. The right to make it available is next in importance to the rights of life and liberty. It lies to a large extent at the foundation of most other forms of property, and of all solid individual and national prosperity.” This ruling of the Supreme Court clearly puts weight in the importance of labor, as a proprietary right of every person.

Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net.

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