Villaruel v. Guan (G.R. No. 169191; June 1, 2011)

CASE DIGEST: ROMEO VILLARUEL, Petitioner, vs. YEO HAN GUAN, doing business under the name and style YUHANS ENTERPRISES, Respondent. (G.R. No. 169191; June 1, 2011).

Petitioner filed with the NLRC a Complaint for payment of separation pay against Yuhans Enterprises. Subsequently, in his Amended Complaint and Position paper, petitioner alleged that in June 1963, he was employed as a machine operator by Ribonette Manufacturing Company, an enterprise engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling PVC pipes and is owned and managed by herein respondent Yeo Han Guan. Over a period of almost twenty (20) years, the company changed its name four times. Starting in 1993 up to the time of the filing of petitioner's complaint in 1999, the company was operating under the name of Yuhans Enterprises. Despite the changes in the company's name, petitioner remained in the employ of respondent. Petitioner further alleged that on October 5, 1998, he got sick and was confined in a hospital; on December 12, 1998, he reported for work but was no longer permitted to go back because of his illness; he asked that respondent allow him to continue working but be assigned a lighter kind of work but his request was denied; instead, he was offered a sum of P15,000.00 as his separation pay; however, the said amount corresponds only to the period between 1993 and 1999; petitioner prayed that he be granted separation pay computed from his first day of employment in June 1963, but respondent refused. Aside from separation pay, petitioner prayed for the payment of service incentive leave for three years as well as attorney's fees.

The Labor Arbiter held in favor of petitioner ordering the respondents to pay separation benefits equivalent to one-half (1/2) month salary per year of service, a fraction of six months equivalent to one year to herein complainant based on the complainant's length of service reckoned from June 1963 up to October 1998 as provided under Article 284 of the Labor Code, in the amount of P91,445.00; and ordering the respondents to pay service incentive leave equivalent to fifteen days salary in the amount of P3,015.00.

On appeal, the NLRC, affirmed the LA's decision. Respondent then filed with the CA a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.

The CA deleted the award of separation pay but sustained the award for service incentive leave.

ISSUE: Is the Petitioner entitled to separation pay?

HELD: Article 284 of the Labor Code provides that: An employer may terminate the services of an employee who has been found to be suffering from any disease and whose continued employment is prohibited by law or is prejudicial to his health as well as to the health of his co-employees: Provided, That he is paid separation pay equivalent to at least one (1) month salary or to one-half (1/2) month salary for every year of service whichever is greater, a fraction of at least six months being considered as one (1) whole year.

A plain reading of the abovequoted provision clearly presupposes that it is the employer who terminates the services of the employee found to be suffering from any disease and whose continued employment is prohibited by law or is prejudicial to his health as well as to the health of his co-employees. It does not contemplate a situation where it is the employee who severs his or her employment ties. This is precisely the reason why Section 8,Rule 1, Book VI of the Omnibus Rules Implementing the Labor Code, directs that an employer shall not terminate the services of the employee unless there is a certification by a competent public health authority that the disease is of such nature or at such a stage that it cannot be cured within a period of six (6) months even with proper medical treatment.The Court finds that petitioner was the one who initiated the severance of his employment relations with respondent. It is evident from the various pleadings filed by petitioner that he never intended to return to his employment with respondent on the ground that his health is failing. Indeed, petitioner did not ask for reinstatement. In fact, he rejected respondent's offer for him to return to work. This is tantamount to resignation.

Resignation is defined as the voluntary act of an employee who finds himself in a situation where he believes that personal reasons cannot be sacrificed in favor of the exigency of the service and he has no other choice but to disassociate himself from his employment. Virjen Shipping Corporation v. Barraquio, G.R. No. 178127, April 16, 2009.

Since petitioner was not terminated from his employment and, instead, is deemed to have resigned therefrom, he is not entitled to separation pay under the provisions of the Labor Code.

The foregoing notwithstanding, this Court, in a number of cases, has granted financial assistance to separated employees as a measure of social and compassionate justice and as an equitable concession. Taking into consideration the factual circumstances obtaining in the present case, the Court finds that petitioner is entitled to this kind of assistance.

The Court finds credence in petitioner's contention that he is in the employ of respondent for more than 35 years. In the absence of a substantial refutation on the part of respondent, the Court agrees with the findings of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC that respondent company is not distinct from its predecessors but, in fact, merely continued the operation of the latter under the same owners and the same business venture. The Court further notes that there is no evidence on record to show that petitioner has any derogatory record during his long years of service with respondent and that his employment was severed not by reason of any infraction on his part but because of his failing physical condition. Add to this the willingness of respondent to give him financial assistance. Hence, based on the foregoing, the Court finds that the award of P50,000.00 to petitioner as financial assistance is deemed equitable under the circumstances. DENIED.