Bluer v. Esteban (G.R. No. 192582; April 7, 2014)


FACTS: Respondent Glyza Esteban (Esteban) was employed in January 2004 as Sales Clerk, and assigned at Bluer Than Blue Joint Ventures Company's (petitioner) EGG boutique in SM City Marilao, Bulacan, beginning the year 2006. Part of her primary tasks were attending to all customer needs, ensuring efficient inventory, coordinating orders from clients, cashiering and reporting to the accounting department.

In November 2006, the petitioner received a report that several employees have access to its point-of-sale (POS) system through a universal password given by Elmer Flores (Flores). Upon investigation, it was discovered that it was Esteban who gave Flores the password. The petitioner sent a letter memorandum to Esteban on November 8, 2006, asking her to explain in writing why she should not be disciplinary dealt with for tampering with the companys POS system through the use of an unauthorized password. Esteban was also placed under preventive suspension for ten days.

In her explanation, Esteban admitted that she used the universal password three times on the same day in December 2005, after she learned of it from two other employees who she saw browsing through the petitioners sales inquiry. She inquired how the employees were able to open the system and she was told that they used the 123456 password.

On November 13, 2006, Estebans preventive suspension was lifted, but at the same time, a notice of termination was sent to her, finding her explanation unsatisfactory and terminating her employment immediately on the ground of loss of trust and confidence. Esteban was given her final pay, including benefits and bonuses, less inventory variances incurred by the store amounting to P8,304.93. Esteban signed a quitclaim and release in favor of the petitioner.

Esteban filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, illegal suspension, holiday pay, rest day and separation pay.

The Labor Arbiter (LA) ruled in favor of Esteban and found that she was illegally dismissed. The LA also awarded separation pay, backwages, unpaid salary during her preventive suspension and attorneys fees.

The petitioner filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), and in its Decision dated September 23, 2008, the NLRC reversed the decision of the LA and dismissed the case for illegal dismissal.

Thus, Esteban went to the Court of Appeals (CA) on certiorari. In the assailed Decision dated November 25, 2009, the CA granted Estebans petition and reinstated the LA decision. Hence, this petition.

ISSUE: Did Esteban's acts constitute just cause to terminate her employment with the company on the ground of loss of trust and confidence?

HELD: Loss of trust and confidence is premised on the fact that the employee concerned holds a position of responsibility, trust and confidence. The employee must be invested with confidence on delicate matters, such as the custody, handling, care and protection of the employers property and funds. With respect to rank-and-file personnel, loss of trust and confidence as ground for valid dismissal requires proof of involvement in the alleged events in question, and that mere uncorroborated assertions and accusations by the employer will not be sufficient.

Esteban is, no doubt, a rank-and-file employee. The question now is whether she occupies a position of trust and confidence. Among the fiduciary rank-and-file employees are cashiers, auditors, property custodians, or those who, in the normal exercise of their functions, regularly handle significant amounts of money or property.

These employees, though rank-and-file, are routinely charged with the care and custody of the employers money or property, and are thus classified as occupying positions of trust and confidence.

In this case, Esteban was a sales clerk. Her duties, however, were more than that of a sales clerk. Aside from attending to customers and tending to the shop, Esteban also assumed cashiering duties. This, she does not deny; instead, she insists that the competency clause provided that her tasks were that of a sales clerk and the cashiering function was labelled to follow. A perusal of the competency clause, however, shows that it is merely an attestation on her part that she is competent to meet the basic requirements needed for the position she is applying for. It does not define her actual duties.

As consistently ruled by the Court, it is not the job title but the actual work that the employee performs that determines whether he or she occupies a position of trust and confidence. In Philippine Plaza Holdings, Inc. v. Episcope, the Court ruled that a service attendant, who was tasked to attend to dining guests, handle their bills and receive payments for transmittal to the cashier and was therefore involved in the handling of company funds, is considered an employee occupying a position of trust and confidence. Similarly in Estebans case, given that she had in her care and custody the stores property and funds, she is considered as a rank-and-file employee occupying a position of trust and confidence.

Proceeding from the above conclusion, the pivotal question that must be answered is whether Estebans acts constitute just cause to terminate her employment.Loss of trust and confidence to be a valid cause for dismissal must be work related such as would show the employee concerned to be unfit to continue working for the employer and it must be based on a willful breach of trust and founded on clearly established facts. Such breach is willful if it is done intentionally, knowingly, and purposely, without justifiable excuse as distinguished from an act done carelessly, thoughtlessly, heedlessly or inadvertently. The loss of trust and confidence must spring from the voluntary or willful act of the employee, or by reason of some blameworthy act or omission on the part of the employee.

In this case, the Court finds that the acts committed by Esteban do not amount to a wilful breach of trust. She admitted that she accessed the POS system with the use of the unauthorized 123456 password. She did so, however, out of curiosity and without any obvious intention of defrauding the petitioner. As professed by Esteban, she was acting in good faith in verifying what her co-staff told her about the opening of the computer by the use of the 123456 password. She even told her co-staff not to open again said computer, and that was the first and last time she opened said computer. Moreover, the petitioner even admitted that Esteban has her own password to the POS system. If it was her intention to manipulate the stores inventory and funds, she could have done so long before she had knowledge of the unauthorized password. But the facts on hand show that she did not. The petitioner also failed to establish a substantial connection between Estebans use of the 123456 password and any loss suffered by the petitioner. Indeed, it may be true that, as posited by the petitioner, it is the fact that she used the password that gives cause to the loss of trust and confidence on Esteban. However, as ruled above, such breach must have been done intentionally, knowingly, and purposely, and without any justifiable excuse, and not simply something done carelessly, thoughtlessly, heedlessly or inadvertently. To the Courts mind, Estebans lapse is, at best, a careless act that does not merit the imposition of the penalty of dismissal.

The Court is not saying that Esteban is innocent of any breach of company policy. That she relayed the password to another employee is likewise demonstrative of her mindless appreciation of her duties as a sales clerk in the petitioners employ. But absent any showing that her acts were done with moral perverseness that would justify the claimed loss of trust and confidence attendant to her job, the Court must sustain the conclusion that Esteban was illegally dismissed. As stated by the CA, suspension would have sufficed as punishment, considering that the petitioner had already been with the company for more than 2 years, and the petitioner apologized and readily admitted her mistake in her written explanation, and considering that no clear and convincing evidence of loss or prejudice, which was suffered by the petitioner from Estebans supposed infraction.


Preventive suspension is a measure allowed by law and afforded to the employer if an employees continued employment poses a serious and imminent threat to the employers life or property or of his co-workers. It may be legally imposed against an employee whose alleged violation is the subject of an investigation.

In this case, the petitioner was acting well within its rights when it imposed a 10-day preventive suspension on Esteban. While it may be that the acts complained of were committed by Esteban almost a year before the investigation was conducted, still, it should be pointed out that Esteban was performing functions that involve handling of the petitioners property and funds, and the petitioner had every right to protect its assets and operations pending Estebans investigation. PARTIALLY GRANTED.