A construction company employed a mason for a project-based work. However, due to the constant projects of the construction company, the mason was employed with it for an uninterrupted period of over seven years. Unfortunately, on his seventh year, he was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, and began to miss work frequently.
When he was finally able to return to work, the construction company handed a
“termination paper,” which was for the purpose of extending his sick leave. Despite not fully understanding the document, he signed the paper anyway and just discovered later that he was being terminated. Hence, a complaint for illegal dismissal was filed against the construction company. The construction company, however, retorted that due to health reasons, the mason tendered a voluntary resignation letter before his employment contract expired.
The Executive Labor Arbiter (ELA) found the construction company guilty of illegal dismissal and was ordered to reinstate the employee immediately. On appeal to the National Labor Relations Commission, the ELA’s order was set aside on the ground that the employee was a project employee and resigned voluntary –
[r]ecords do show that complainant executed a voluntary resignation. And while there may indeed be a slight difference in the signature and handwriting, this do not readily mean that complainant did not execute the same as was the inclination of the Executive Labor Arbiter.
The Court of Appeals (CA) held that the mason had already acquired the status of a regular employee because his “repeated re-hiring and the continuing need for his services over a long span of time had undeniably made him a regular employee.” As a regular employee, his removal was not one of the authorized causes found under the Labor Code. Moreover, the mason’s supposedly voluntary resignation was not given merit since records showed that the ELA “concluded that the handwriting in the supposed resignation letter was undeniably different from that of complainant” and the construction company failed to rebut the discrepancy in the signatures.
The Supreme Court agreed with the ruling of the CA explaining that the CA’s reliance on the ELA’s findings were warranted –
The CA’s reliance on the conclusion and finding by ELA Panganiban-Ortiguerra was warranted. Her observation that the handwriting in the resignation letter was ‘undeniably different’ from that of Bello could not be ignored or shunted aside simply because she had no expertise to make such a determination… Yet, even had the letter been actually signed by him, the voluntariness of the resignation could not be assumed from such fact alone. His claim that he had been led to believe that the letter would serve only as the means of extending his sick leave from work should have alerted DMCI to the task of proving the voluntariness of the resignation. It was obvious that, if his claim was true, then he did not fully comprehend the import of the letter, rendering the resignation farcical . . . Under the circumstances, DMCI became burdened with the obligation to prove the due execution and genuineness of the document as a letter of resignation.
We reiterate that it is axiomatic in labor law that the employer who interposes the defense of voluntary resignation of the employee in an illegal dismissal case must prove by clear, positive, and convincing evidence that the resignation was voluntary; and that the employer cannot rely on the weakness of the defense of the employee.
The requirement rests on the need to resolve any doubt in favor of the workingman (D.M. Consunji Corporation v. Bello, G.R. No 159371, 29 July 2013, J. Bersamin).