Grandteq v. Estrella (G.R. No. 192416; March 23, 2011)


FACTS: Respondent Estrella, an employee of petitioner Grandteq failed to abide by the company's directive to return a car purchased under an agreement with the company.Hence, on September 18, 2004, Grandteq sent her a memorandum requiring her to explain her "insubordination," to which Estrella replied that she had paid the down payment for the car.

On September 17, 2004, she filed a complaint for recovery of sales commissions, allowances, and other benefits before the Labor Arbiter (LA). The complaint alleged that Grandteq refused to release her sales commissions and incentives. Meanwhile, on September 20, 2004, Estrella filed an application for leave of absence, and subsequently, submitted a medical certificate recommending that she rest for three (3) weeks. Grandteq denied her application; nonetheless, she went on leave of absence effective September 22, 2004 until October 14, 2004.

On October 1, 2004, Estrella tried to withdraw her salary for the period September 15 to 30, 2004. To her dismay, she discovered that her salary was not remitted by Grandteq.Thus, she amended her complaint to include nonpayment of salary. On October 15, 2004, Estrella went to the office of Grandteq to report for work, but the security guard refused her entry, allegedly upon the behest of Grandteqs vice-president, DeLeon. Aggrieved, respondent again amended her complaint to include illegal dismissal as one of her causes of action.

Grandteq averred that Estrella was validly dismissed because she abandoned her job when she did not report for work for three weeks despite the disapproval of her leave application; that she committed insubordination when she failed to obey an official order directing her to return a company vehicle;that she violated the confidence and trust reposed in her by the company when she negotiated in her personal capacity with a client. Estrella was furnished with a Notice of Termination on November 12, 2004,indicating that she was being dismissed for gross and habitual neglect of duty and fraud or willful breach of trust. Grandteq denied any outstanding sales commissions or incentives due Estrella.

The LA ruled for Estrella. The NLRC reversed, but the CA reinstated the LAs decision.

ISSUE: Did the acts imputed to Estrella constitute gross and habitual neglect of duty and loss of trust and confidence so as to provide just cause for her dismissal?

HELD: Grandteq attributes loss of trust and confidence to the following acts:

[1] insubordination when Estrella disobeyed a company directive ordering her to return a company vehicle; and
[2] transacting, in her personal capacity, with a client of Grandteq.

Insubordination, as a just cause for the dismissal of an employee, necessitates the concurrence of at least two requisites:
[1] the employee's assailed conduct must have been willful, that is, characterized by a wrongful and perverse attitude; and
[2] the order violated must have been reasonable, lawful, made known to the employee, and must pertain to the duties which he had been engaged to discharge

The facts of the case do not show the presence of the second requisite. The failure to return the vehicle and the Purchase/Assignment of Car Agreement, from which Grandteq derives its claim of ownership over the car, had no relation at all to the discharge of respondents duties as a sales engineer.

There is likewise no basis for a finding of legitimate loss of confidence because Grandteq failed to show that Estrella held a position of trust and confidence.

Grandteq also imputes gross and habitual neglect of duty when Estrella was absent from work for three (3) weeks without an approved application for leave. Gross negligence connotes want of care in the performance of one's duties, while habitual neglect implies repeated failure to perform one's duties for a period of time, depending on the circumstances. The single or isolated act of negligence does not constitute a just cause for the dismissal of an employee. Here, such was not established. Estrella's actions after her absences negate an intent to abandon her job. Estrella's application for sick leave, the Medical Certificate she secured, and the letter from her lawyer that she was going on sick leave and more importantly, her going back to the company premises on October 15, 2004 all indicate her intention to resume work after the lapse of the period of her leave of absence. DENIED.