I was a manager of a retail bookstore in Cebu City for almost seven years. One day, an audit team came to my branch and discovered that our weekly petty cash had a substantial deficiency of about P350,000.00. After two days of investigation, our company regional supervisor talked to me and Jenna, the cashier of my branch, and told us that our employments were terminated effective immediately, because the investigating team discovered that we were supposedly in cahoots in using the petty cash and covering it up with the sales of the store the following week.
Distraught and shocked, I was not able to object because I was very afraid of being jailed. The company did not press criminal charges against me, but I was left without work for almost 11 months already. It just recently dawned on me that it is possible that there was no actual deficiency, but that our regional supervisor just wanted us out. Was our termination even valid? Can we still question the termination of our employment and seek compensation for the time lost?
Yes, you may definitely question the validity and/or legality of your termination and file money claims against your previous employer. It must first be emphasized that under Article 291 of the Labor Code “[a]ll money claims arising from employer-employee relations accruing during the effectivity of the [Labor] Code shall be filed within three (3) years from the time the cause of action accrued.” (Emphasis supplied)
Based on your narration, it has only been eleven (11) months since you were supposedly terminated by your previous employer. Thus, based on Article 291 of the above-mentioned law, you may still bring an action for money claims against your employer. Moreover, it is clearly relevant to state that your right to procedural due process was also violated when you were terminated abruptly and without being informed of the charge against you, and without any opportunity to defend yourself.
In the case of Kings of Kings Transport Inc., et al. vs. Santiago Mamac (G.R. No. 166208, 29 June 2007; ponente, Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr.), the Supreme Court held that “[d]ue process under the Labor Code involves two aspects: first, substantive––the valid and authorized causes of termination of employment under the Labor Code; and second, procedural––the manner of dismissal.”
More important, in the same case, the Supreme Court provided for guidelines in the termination of an employee, thus:
“(1) The first written notice to be served on the employees should contain the specific causes or grounds for termination against them, and a directive that the employees are given the opportunity to submit their written explanation within a reasonable period. “Reasonable opportunity” under the Omnibus Rules means every kind of assistance that management must accord to the employees to enable them to prepare adequately for their defense. This should be construed as a period of at least five (5) calendar days from receipt of the notice to give the employees an opportunity to study the accusation against them, consult a union official or lawyer, gather data and evidenc, and decide on the defenses they will raise against the complaint. Moreover, in order to enable the employees to intelligently prepare their explanation and defenses, the notice should contain a detailed narration of the facts and circumstances that will serve as basis for the charge against the employees. A general description of the charge will not suffice. Lastly, the notice should specifically mention which company rules, if any, are violated and/or which among the grounds under Article 282 and are being charged against the employees.
(2) After serving the first notice, the employers should schedule and conduct a hearing or conference wherein the employees will be given the opportunity to: (1) explain and clarify their defenses to the charge against them; (2) present evidence in support of their defenses; and (3) rebut the evidence presented against them by the management. During the hearing or conference, the employees are given the chance to defend themselves personally, with the assistance of a representative or counsel of their choice. Moreover, this conference or hearing could be used by the parties as an opportunity to come to an amicable settlement.
(3) After determining that termination of employment is justified, the employers shall serve the employees a written notice of termination indicating that: (1) all circumstances involving the charge against the employees have been considered; and (2) grounds have been established to justify the severance of their employment.” [Emphasis supplied.]
Tested against the foregoing, it is readily apparent that your termination was in no way compliant with the standard required. In your situation, you were neither given any of the following – a first written notice informing you of the charges against you, a hearing or conference or at least an opportunity to defend yourself, or a written notice of termination after a consideration of your defenses. Clearly, the acts of your employer violated your right to procedural due process for which you may make money claims upon. Thus, you may still question your termination before the proper authorities.
We find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Thus, the opinion may vary when the facts are changed or further 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 email@example.com