Pantranco v. NLRC (G.R. No. 114333; January 24, 1996)


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1. LABOR AND SOCIAL LEGISLATION; LABOR CODE; TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT; ILLNESS AS A GROUND; CERTIFICATION FROM PUBLIC HEALTH AUTHORITY THAT ILLNESS CANNOT BE CURED WITHIN A PERIOD OF SIX (6) MONTHS, INDISPENSABLE. - Petitioner anchors its right to terminate the employment of Rueda on the ground of serious misconduct. The facts show that petitioner abandoned serious misconduct as a ground to dismiss Rueda when it opted to retire him due to illness. A memorandum to this effect was issued by petitioner on May 10, 1988. Neither can we affirm the legality of Ruedas retirement due to illness. Section 8 of the Rules and Regulations Implementing the Labor Code provides that the employer shall not terminate his employment 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.

2. ID.; ID.; ID.; ID.; ID.; ID.; CASE AT BAR. In this case, petitioner did not submit the required certification by a competent public health authority to show that Ruedas illness could not be cured within the period specified under the aforequoted rule. The radiograph report submitted by petitioner merely stated Ruedas disease. In the absence of such certification, Ruedasretirement due to illness has no leg to stand on.

3. ID.; ID.; ID.; MUST BE BASED ON CLEAR GROUND AND NOT AN AMBIGUOUS OR AMBIVALENT GROUND. - Dismissal is the ultimate penalty that can be meted to an employee. It must, therefore, be based on a clear and not an ambiguous or ambivalent ground. Any ambiguity or ambivalence on the ground relied upon by an employer in terminating the services of an employee denies the latter his full right to contest its legality. Fairness cannot countenance such ambiguity or ambivalence.

4. ID.; ID.; ID.; IN CASE OF ILLEGAL DISMISSAL, EMPLOYEE ENTITLED TO REINSTATEMENT AND BACKWAGES. - We now come to the consequences that should visit the petitioner for illegally dismissing Rueda. Under the Labor Code, an illegally dismissed employee is entitled to reinstatement and to backwages.

5. ID.; ID.; ID.; SEPARATION PAY; PAYMENT THEREOF PROPER IN LIEU OF REINSTATEMENT WHERE EMPLOYER IS IN SEVERE FINANCIAL STRAIT; CASE AT BAR. - In this case, however, public respondent deemed it proper to order the payment of Ruedas backwages and separation pay, in lieu of reinstatement. Public respondent noted that petitioner is in severe financial strait, nay, on the verge of collapse, thus, making Ruedas reinstatement impractical or impossible. We find no cogent reason to set aside public respondents findings on this matter.

6. ID.; ID.; ID.; ID.; PERIOD OF RETRENCHMENT SHOULD BE DEDUCTED. - We hold that public respondent gravely abused its discretion in reckoning the employment of Rueda from May 14, 1956, for the purpose of computing his separation pay. It completely disregarded the fact that Rueda did not question his retrenchment in 1978, as indeed, he received his separation pay without protest. Even assuming, arguendo, that Ruedas retrenchment was unjustified, it is now too late to raise it as an issue on the ground of prescription. Rueda should have protested his retrenchment within four (4) years pursuant to Art. 1146 of the Civil Code. As correctly ruled by the labor arbiter, Ruedas length of service with petitioner should be reckoned from February 7, 1981, the date he was rehired, until August 9, 1989 which was the last day of his sick leave of absence.

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