• Doctors’ hospital-employer can be held liable for illegal dismissal

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    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    My parents are both doctors and they are retained by a certain hospital near our residence. They have identification cards issued by the hospital, which also enrolled them in the Social Security System (SSS) and PhilHealth, as its employees. They were given a regular monthly salary for a twice a week employment schedule.

    Allegedly, my father was overheard by another doctor talking to one of his colleagues about the low admissions in the hospital and that doctor confided what he heard in the chief of the hospital. In view of the affidavit executed by the doctor who overheard my father, my father was suspended by the hospital through a written document, along with my mother, who, while she was not involved in the incident, was no longer given any assignment by the hospital, albeit verbally. Eventually, they just said my mother was removed from the roll over hospital cost-cutting measures.

    The hospital faced unrest because of clamor from the labor union and it implicated my father with actions of all its employees. He was never called back to work and was eventually terminated “for a cause inimical to the interest of the hospital” through a letter. To our dismay, one of the board members of the hospital even included my parents in a blacklist circulating in all hospitals around the region. My parents’ reputation as doctors is tremendously affected by what this hospital has been doing to my parents, and some of their colleagues can attest to this. May my parents sue the hospital for (a) illegal dismissal and (b) damages?
    Sincerely yours,
    Trisha

    Dear Trisha,
    Given the factual situation of your parents, the case of Calamba Medical Center Inc. vs. NLRC and Dr. Ronaldo & Dr. Mercedita Lanzanas (G.R. No. 176484, November 25, 2008) penned by former Associate Justice and now Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales seems to be at square with your predicament and can surely enlighten you. It stated:

    “Under the control test, an employment relationship exists between a physician and a hospital if the hospital controls both the means and the details of the process by which the physician is to accomplish his task.

    Where a person who works for another does so more or less at his own pleasure and is not subject to definite hours or conditions of work, and is compensated according to the result of his efforts and not the amount thereof, the element of control is absent.

    As priorly stated, private respondents maintained specific work-schedules, as determined by petitioner through its medical director, which consisted of 24-hour shifts totaling forty-eight hours each week and which were strictly to be observed under pain of administrative sanctions.

    That petitioner exercised control over respondents gains light from the undisputed fact that in the emergency room, the operating room, or any department or ward for that matter, respondents’ work is monitored through its nursing supervisors, charge nurses and orderlies. Without the approval or consent of petitioner or its medical director, no operations can be undertaken in those areas. For control test to apply, it is not essential for the employer to actually supervise the performance of duties of the employee, it being enough that [he]has the right to wield the power.

    xxx xxx xxx

    Respondents were in fact made subject to petitioner-hospital’s Code of Ethics, the provisions of which cover administrative and disciplinary measures on negligence of duties, personnel conduct and behavior and offenses against persons, property and the hospital’s interest.

    More important, petitioner itself provided incontrovertible proof of the employment status of respondents, namely, the identification cards the hospital issued them, the pay slips and BIR W-2 (now 2316) Forms, which reflect their status as employees, and the classification as salary of their remuneration. Moreover, the hospital enrolled respondents in the SSS and Medicare (Philhealth) program. It bears noting at this juncture that mandatory coverage under the SSS Law is premised on the existence of an employer-employee relationship, except in cases of compulsory coverage of the self-employed. It would be preposterous for an employer to report certain persons as employees and pay their SSS premiums as well as their wages if they are not his employees.

    And if respondents were not petitioner’s employees, how do they account for their issuance of the earlier-quoted March 7, 1998 memorandum explicitly stating that respondent is employed in the hospital and of the subsequent termination letter indicating respondent Lanzanas’ employment status?” (Emphasis supplied)

    Succinctly, your parents have clear causes of actions against the hospital. The fact that the hospital admitted its employer-employee relationship to your parents by suspending and consequently dismissing your father through written documents, added to the information that they issued your parents identification cards and enrolled them in the Social Security System (SSS) and PhilHealth as their employees, there is no question that your parents may seek action against the hospital for illegal dismissal, and seek payment for the damages they have suffered in relation thereto.

    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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