Abbott v. Alcaraz (G.R. No. 192571; July 23, 2013)


FACTS: Petitioner Abbott Laboratories, Philippines (Abbott) caused the publication in a major broadsheet newspaper of its need for a Medical and Regulatory Affairs Manager. Alcaraz - who was then a Regulatory Affairs and Information Manager at Aventis Pasteur Philippines, Incorporated (another pharmaceutical company like Abbott) showed interest and submitted her application.In Abbotts offer sheet, it was stated that Alcaraz was to be employed on a probationary basis. Later that day, she accepted the said offer and received an electronic mail (e-mail) from Abbotts Recruitment Officer, petitioner Teresita C. Bernardo (Bernardo), confirming the same. Attached to Bernardos e-mail were Abbotts organizational chart and a job description of Alcarazs work.

During Alcarazs pre-employment orientation, petitioner Allan G. Almazar (Almazar), Hospiras Country Transition Manager, briefed her on her duties and responsibilities as Regulatory Affairs Manager. Petitioner Kelly Walsh (Walsh), Manager of the Literature Drug Surveillance Drug Safety of Hospira, will be her immediate supervisor. Petitioner Maria Olivia T. Yabut-Misa (Misa), Abbotts Human Resources (HR) Director, sent Alcaraz an e-mail which contained an explanation of the procedure for evaluating the performance of probationary employees.

During the course of her employment, Alcaraz noticed that some of the staff had disciplinary problems. Thus, she would reprimand them for their unprofessional behavior such as non-observance of the dress code, moonlighting, and disrespect of Abbott officers. However, Alcarazs method of management was considered by Walsh to be "too strict."

Alcaraz was called to a meeting with Walsh and Terrible, Abbotts former HR Director, where she was informed that she failed to meet the regularization standards for the position of Regulatory Affairs Manager. Walsh, Almazar, and Bernardo personally handed to Alcaraz a letter stating that her services had been terminated effective May 19, 2005. The letter detailed the reasons for Alcarazs termination. Alcaraz felt that she was unjustly terminated from her employment and thus, filed a complaint for illegal dismissal and damages against Abbott and its officers, namely, Misa, Bernardo, Almazar, Walsh, Terrible, and Feist. She claimed that she should have already been considered as a regular and not a probationary employee given Abbotts failure to inform her of the reasonable standards for her regularization upon her engagement as required under Article 295of the Labor Code.

LA dismissed Alcarazs complaint for lack of merit. The LA rejected Alcarazs argument that she was not informed of the reasonable standards to qualify as a regular employee. The NLRC reversed the findings of the LA and ruled that there was no evidence showing that Alcaraz had been apprised of her probationary status and the requirements which she should have complied with in order to be a regular employee. On appeal, CA affirmed the NLRC decision. Hence, this petition.

ISSUE: Was Alcaraz illegally dismissed?

HELD: The probationary employee may also be terminated for failure to qualify as a regular employee in accordance with the reasonable standards made known by the employer to the employee at the time of the engagement.

A probationary employee, like a regular employee, enjoys security of tenure. However, in cases of probationary employment, aside from just or authorized causes of termination, an additional ground is provided under Article 295 of the Labor Code, i.e., the probationary employee may also be terminated for failure to qualify as a regular employee in accordance with the reasonable standards made known by the employer to the employee at the time of the engagement. Thus, the services of an employee who has been engaged on probationary basis may be terminated for any of the following: (a) a just or (b) an authorized cause; and (c) when he fails to qualify as a regular employee in accordance with reasonable standards prescribed by the employer.

A punctilious examination of the records reveals that Abbott had indeed complied with the above-stated requirements. This conclusion is largely impelled by the fact that Abbott clearly conveyed to Alcaraz her duties and responsibilities as Regulatory Affairs Manager prior to, during the time of her engagement, and the incipient stages of her employment. On this score, the Court finds it apt to detail not only the incidents which point out to the efforts made by Abbott but also those circumstances which would show that Alcaraz was well-apprised of her employers expectations that would, in turn, determine her regularization.

Abbott caused the publication in a major broadsheet newspaper of its need for a Regulatory Affairs Manager, indicating therein the job description for as well as the duties and responsibilities attendant to the aforesaid position. In Abbotts December 7, 2004 offer sheet, it was stated that Alcaraz was to be employed on a probationary status. On the day Alcaraz accepted Abbotts employment offer, Bernardo sent her copies of Abbotts organizational structure and her job description through e-mail. Alcaraz was made to undergo a pre-employment orientation where Almazar informed her that she had to implement Abbotts Code of Conduct and office policies on human resources and finance and that she would be reporting directly to Walsh. Alcaraz received copies of Abbotts Code of Conduct and Performance Modules from Misa who explained to her the procedure for evaluating the performance of probationary employees; she was further notified that Abbott had only one evaluation system for all of its employees.

Considering the totality of the above-stated circumstances, it cannot, therefore, be doubted that Alcaraz was well-aware that her regularization would depend on her ability and capacity to fulfill the requirements of her position as Regulatory Affairs Manager and that her failure to perform such would give Abbott a valid cause to terminate her probationary employment.

An employer who terminates an employee for a valid cause but does so through invalid procedure is liable to pay the latter nominal damages.

Despite the existence of a sufficient ground to terminate Alcarazs employment and Abbotts compliance with the Labor Code termination procedure, it is readily apparent that Abbott breached its contractual obligation to Alcaraz when it failed to abide by its own procedure in evaluating the performance of a probationary employee.

Records show that Abbotts PPSE procedure mandates, inter alia, that the job performance of a probationary employee should be formally reviewed and discussed with the employee at least twice: first on the third month and second on the fifth month from the date of employment. Abbott is also required to come up with a Performance Improvement Plan during the third month review to bridge the gap between the employees performance and the standards set, if any. In addition, a signed copy of the PPSE form should be submitted to Abbotts HRD as the same would serve as basis for recommending the confirmation or termination of the probationary employment.

In this case, it is apparent that Abbott failed to follow the above-stated procedure in evaluating Alcaraz. For one, there lies a hiatus of evidence that a signed copy of Alcarazs PPSE form was submitted to the HRD. It was not even shown that a PPSE form was completed to formally assess her performance. Neither was the performance evaluation discussed with her during the third and fifth months of her employment. Nor did Abbott come up with the necessary Performance Improvement Plan to properly gauge Alcarazs performance with the set company standards.

In this light, while there lies due cause to terminate Alcarazs probationary employment for her failure to meet the standards required for her regularization, and while it must be further pointed out that Abbott had satisfied its statutory duty to serve a written notice of termination, the fact that it violated its own company procedure renders the termination of Alcarazs employment procedurally infirm, warranting the payment of nominal damages. A further exposition is apropos. GRANTED.

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