Functional v. Granfil (G.R. No. 176377; November 16, 2011)


FACTS: Sometime in 1992, respondent Samuel C. Granfil was hired as key operator by petitioner Functional, Inc. (FI), a domestic corporation engaged in the business of sale and rental of various business equipments, including photocopying machines. As Key Operator, Granfil was tasked to operate the photocopying machine rented by the National Bookstore (NBS) at its SM Megamall Branch. There is no dispute regarding the fact that, in the evening of 30 July 2002, Granfil attended to a customer by the name of Cosme Cavaldeja (Cavaldeja) who, together with his wife, asked to have their flyers photocopied. It appears that Bonnel Dechavez, the security guard assigned at said establishment, saw Cavaldeja handing money to Granfil, instead of the cashier, after the transaction was finished.

On 3 September 2002, Granfil filed a complaint against FI for illegal dismissal, unpaid 13th month pay, moral and exemplary damages and attorneys fees. In support of his complaint, Granfil alleged, among other matters, that the money which Dechavez saw him receive from Cavaldeja was a P200 tip said customer gave him in appreciation of his assistance in xeroxing and organizing the batches of voluminous materials he asked to be photocopied and that that payment for the materials was, however, already paid per batch by Cavaldejas wife who, by that time, had already left the premises. He also explained that he was quickly terminated after the incident without being given the chance to explain his side.

FI, it its defense, argued that Granfil had abandoned his work after he was reassigned.

ISSUE: Was Granfil illegally dismissed?

HELD: The rule is long and well settled that, in illegal dismissal cases like the one at bench, the burden of proof is upon the employer to show that the employee's termination from service is for a just and valid cause. The employer's case succeeds or fails on the strength of its evidence and not the weakness of that adduced by the employee, in keeping with the principle that the scales of justice should be tilted in favor of the latter in case of doubt in the evidence presented by them. Often described as more than a mere scintilla, the quantum of proof is substantial evidence which is understood as such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other equally reasonable minds might conceivably opine otherwise. Failure of the employer to discharge the foregoing onus would mean that the dismissal is not justified and therefore illegal.Denying the charge of illegal dismissal, FI insists that Granfil abandoned his employment after he was transferred from his assignment at the NBS Megamall Branch as a consequence of the latters request for his relief. In the same manner that it cannot be said to have discharged the above-discussed burden by merely alleging that it did not dismiss the employee, it has been ruled that an employer cannot expediently escape liability for illegal dismissal by claiming that the former abandoned his work. This applies to FI which adduced no evidence to prove Granfil's supposed abandonment beyond submitting copies of NBS 31 July 2002 request for said employees transfer and its 1 August 2002 written acquiescence thereto. While these documents may have buttressed the claim that Granfil was indeed recalled from his assignment, however, we find that the CA correctly discounted their probative value insofar as FIs theory of abandonment is concerned.

Being a matter of intention, moreover, abandonment cannot be inferred or presumed from equivocal acts. As a just and valid ground for dismissal, it requires the deliberate, unjustified refusal of the employee to resume his employment, without any intention of returning. Two elements must concur:

[1] failure to report for work or absence without valid or justifiable reason, and
[2] a clear intention to sever the employer-employee relationship, with the second element as the more determinative factor and being manifested by some overt acts. The burden of proving abandonment is once again upon the employer who, whether pleading the same as a ground for dismissing an employee or as a mere defense, additionally has the legal duty to observe due process. Settled is the rule that mere absence or failure to report to work is not tantamount to abandonment of work.