I still have a claim for unpaid salaries and 13th month pay against my previous employer. I checked the Internet to know more about my problem and noticed that a labor case is usually filed in the place where the employee worked. Is it mandatory to file my claim at the place where I worked? Can I not file my claim here in Metro Manila where I reside and where the company holds its principal office? You see, I was designated to oversee their workshop located far outside Metro Manila, so it would be very inconvenient on my part if I had to go to my previous workplace just to file the case.
Your query refers to the venue of a labor case. Venue simply refers to the place where an action should be brought or filed (Sulo ng Bayan, Inc. v. Araneta, Inc., 72 SCRA 347). While it is true that a labor claim is usually filed at the place where the employee works, such practice or rule is not mandatory.
Section 1, Rule IV of the 2011 NLRC Rules of Procedure specifically provides that “all cases which Labor Arbiters have authority to hear and decide may be filed in the Regional Arbitration Branch having jurisdiction over the workplace of the complainant or petitioner. For purposes of venue, the workplace shall be understood as the place or locality where the employee is regularly assigned at the time the cause of action arose.” Notice that the rules state that cases “may” be filed in the Regional Arbitration Branch having jurisdiction over the workplace of the complainant. It is a basic rule in statutory construction that “may” denotes discretion and is not interpreted as having mandatory effect.
Applying this rule on venue of labor cases, the Supreme Court held in the case of Sulpicio Lines, Inc. vs. NLRC that the National Labor Relations Commission rule on venue is obviously permissive, for the said section uses the word “may,” allowing a different venue when the interests of substantial justice demand a different one, and that in any case, the Constitutional protection accorded to labor is a paramount and compelling factor, provided the venue chosen is not altogether oppressive to the employer (254 SCRA 506).
From the foregoing, it is clear that a labor case is not required to be filed at the NLRC branch of the complainant’s workplace. The law allows discretion on the part of the complainant to file his labor claim at his workplace or elsewhere. The next question then is where is elsewhere.
On this score, the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Dayag vs. Canizares (287 SCRA 181) is instructive. In the said case, the Supreme Court allowed a labor case for illegal dismissal and labor money claims to be filed and heard in Metro Manila, where complaining employees reside, though their previous workplace is in Cebu considering that such can neither be considered oppressive nor inconvenient to the employer. In its decision, the Supreme Court declared “the worker, being the economically-disadvantaged party whether as complainant/petitioner or as respondent, as the case may be, the nearest governmental machinery to settle the dispute must be placed at his immediate disposal, and the other party is not to be given the choice of another competent agency sitting in another place as this will unduly burden the former.” Hence, other than the workplace, a labor case may be filed at the residence of the complaining employee so long as it would not be oppressive to the employer.
Applying the foregoing to your case, you are not obligated by law to file your claim at your previous workplace. You have the option to file it there or here in Metro Manila, where you currently reside. This is further supported by your statement that the main office of your previous employer is likewise located in Metro Manila, which leads us to conclude that it would not be oppressive or inconvenient on their part if the case is filed in Metro Manila.
We hope we were able to sufficiently address your concern. Please bear in mind that this opinion is based on the facts you narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary if facts are changed or elaborated.
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