Lopez v. Alturas (G.R. No. 191008; April 11, 2011)


FACTS: Quirico Lopez (petitioner) was hired by respondent Alturas Group of Companies in 1997 as truck driver. Ten years later or sometime in November 2007, he was dismissed after he was allegedly caught by respondent’s security guard in the act of attempting to smuggle out of the company premises 60 kilos of scrap iron worth P840 aboard respondents’ Isuzu Cargo Aluminum Van that was then assigned to him. When questioned, petitioner allegedly admitted to the security guard that he was taking out the scrap iron consisting of lift springs out of which he would make axes.

In his compliance with the Show Cause Notice, the petitioner submitted his handwritten explanation and denied the allegations. However, the respondent company found his explanation unsatisfactory and terminated his employment on the grounds of loss of trust and confidence, and of violation of company rules and regulations. As a result of the respondent company’s investigation, they found out that the petitioner had been smuggling out its cartons which he had sold for his own benefit. Thus, a criminal case for qualified theft was filed against him.

Petitioner thereupon filed a complaint against respondent company for illegal dismissal and underpayment of wages. He claimed that the smuggling charge against him was fabricated to justify his illegal dismissal and that the filing of the charge came about after he reported the loss of the original copy of his pay slip, which report, he went on to claim, respondent company took to mean that he could use the pay slip as evidence for filing a complaint for violation of labor laws; and that on account of the immediately stated concern of respondent, it forced him into executing an affidavit that if the pay slip is eventually found, it could not be used in any proceedings between them.

The LA, holding that the pendency of the criminal case involving the scrap iron did not warrant the suspension of the proceedings before him, held that petitioner’s dismissal was justified, for he, a truck driver, held a position of trust and confidence, and his act of stealing company property was a violation of the trust reposed upon him. The NLRC set aside the decision of the LA and ruled that due process was not observed in the dismissal of the petitioner. However, the CA reversed the NLRC ruling and ordered the petitioner to pay the amount of P30,000 as nominal damages.

ISSUE: Was the petitioner legally dismissed?

HELD: Dismissals have two facets: the legality of the act of dismissal, which constitutes substantive due process, and the legality of the manner of dismissal which constitutes procedural due process.As to substantive due process, the Court finds that respondent company’s loss of trust and confidence arising from petitioner’s smuggling out of the scrap iron, compounded by his past acts of unauthorized selling cartons belonging to respondent company, constituted just cause for terminating his services. The allegations were amply proven by substantial evidence consisting of the affidavits of various employees of respondent.

Loss of trust and confidence as a ground for dismissal of employees covers employees occupying a position of trust who are proven to have breached the trust and confidence reposed on them. Petitioner, a driver assigned with a specific vehicle, was entrusted with the transportation of respondent company’s goods and property, and consequently with its handling and protection, hence, even if he did not occupy a managerial position, he can be said to be holding a position of responsibility. As to his act–principal ground for his dismissal — his attempt to smuggle out the scrap iron belonging to respondent company, the same is undoubtedly work-related.

As to procedural due process, it has been defined as giving an opportunity to be heard before judgment is rendered. In the case at hand, the Court finds that the petitioner was given the opportunity to explain his side when he was informed of the charge against him and required to submit his written explanation with which he complied. That there might have been no hearing is of no moment.

In addition to that, the Court finds that it was error for the NLRC to opine that petitioner should have been afforded counsel or advised of the right to counsel. The right to counsel and the assistance of one in investigations involving termination cases is neither indispensable nor mandatory, except when the employee himself requests for one or that he manifests that he wants a formal hearing on the charges against him. In petitioner’s case, there is no showing that he requested for a formal hearing to be conducted or that he be assisted by counsel. Verily, since he was furnished a second notice informing him of his dismissal and the grounds therefor, the twin-notice requirement had been complied with to call for a deletion of the appellate court’s award of nominal damages to petitioner.

Therefore, the petition is denied. The Report of the CA is affirmed with modification in that the award of nominal damages in the amount of P30,000 is deleted.