Dismissal due to Strikes, Pickets or Lockouts

Turning now to the issue of dismissal, the Court upholds the appellate court's conclusion that private respondents were illegally dismissed.

Dr. Lanzanas was neither a managerial nor supervisory employee but part of the rank-and-file. This is the import of the Secretary of Labor's Resolution of May 22, 1998 in OS A-05-15-98 which reads:
x x x x In the motion to dismiss it filed before the Med-Arbiter, the employer (CMC) alleged that 24 members of petitioner are supervisors, namely x x x Rolando Lanzonas [sic] x x x. 

A close scrutiny of the job descriptions of the alleged supervisors narrated by the employer only proves that except for the contention that these employees allegedly supervise, they do not however recommend any managerial action. At most, their job is merely routinary in nature and consequently, they cannot be considered supervisory employees.  

They are not therefore barred from membership in the union of rank[-]and[-]file, which the petitioner [the union] is seeking to represent in the instant case. x x x x

Admittedly, Dr. Lanzanas was a union member in the hospital, which is considered indispensable to the national interest. In labor disputes adversely affecting the continued operation of a hospital, Article 263(g) of the Labor Code provides:

ART. 263. STRIKES, PICKETING, AND LOCKOUTS.–  x x x x  (g) x x x x x x x x. In labor disputes adversely affecting the continued operation of such hospitals, clinics or medical institutions, it shall be the duty of the striking union or locking-out employer to provide and maintain an effective skeletal workforce of medical and other health personnel, whose movement and services shall be unhampered and unrestricted, as are necessary to insure the proper and adequate protection of the life and health of its patients, most especially emergency cases, for the duration of the strike or lockout. In such cases, the Secretary of Labor and Employment is mandated to immediately assume, within twenty-four hours from knowledge of the occurrence of such strike or lockout, jurisdiction over the same or certify to the Commission for compulsory arbitration. For this purpose, the contending parties are strictly enjoined to comply with such orders, prohibitions and/or injunctions as are issued by the Secretary of Labor and Employment or the Commission, under pain of immediate disciplinary action, including dismissal or loss of employment status or payment by the locking-out employer of backwages, damages and other affirmative relief, even criminal prosecution against either or both of them. An assumption or certification order of the DOLE Secretary automatically results in a return-to-work of all striking workers, whether a corresponding return-to-work order had been issued. The DOLE Secretary in fact issued a return-to-work Order, failing to comply with which is punishable by dismissal or loss of employment status.

Participation in a strike and intransigence to a return-to-work order must, however, be duly proved in order to justify immediate dismissal in a "national interest" case. As the appellate court as well as the NLRC observed, however, there is nothing in the records that would bear out Dr. Lanzanas' actual participation in the strike. And the medical director's Memorandum of April 22, 1998 contains nothing more than a general directive to all union officers and members to return-to-work. Mere membership in a labor union does not ipso facto mean participation in a strike.

Dr. Lanzanas' claim that, after his 30-day preventive suspension ended on or before April 9, 1998, he was never given any work schedule was not refuted by petitioner. Petitioner in fact never released any findings of its supposed investigation into Dr. Lanzanas' alleged "inimical acts."

Petitioner thus failed to observe the two requirements,before dismissal can be effected ─ notice and hearing ─ which constitute essential elements of the statutory process; the first to apprise the employee of the particular acts or omissions for which his dismissal is sought, and the second to inform the employee of the employer's decision to dismiss him. Non-observance of these requirements runs afoul of the procedural mandate.

The termination notice sent to and received by Dr. Lanzanas on April 25, 1998 was the first and only time that he was apprised of the reason for his dismissal. He was not afforded, however, even the slightest opportunity to explain his side. His was a "termination upon receipt" situation. While he was priorly made to explain on his telephone conversation with Miscala, he was not with respect to his supposed participation in the strike and failure to heed the return-to-work order.

As for the case of Dr. Merceditha, her dismissal was worse, it having been effected without any just or authorized cause and without observance of due process. In fact, petitioner never proferred any valid cause for her dismissal except its view that "her marriage to [Dr. Lanzanas] has given rise to the presumption that her sympath[y] [is] with her husband; [and that when [Dr. Lanzanas] declared that he was going to boycott the scheduling of their workload by the medical doctor, he was presumed to be speaking for himself [and] for his wife Merceditha."

Petitioner's contention that Dr. Merceditha was a member of the union or was a participant in the strike remained just that. Its termination of her employment on the basis of her conjugal relationship is not analogous to any of the causes enumerated in Article 282 of the Labor Code. Mere suspicion or belief, no matter how strong, cannot substitute for factual findings carefully established through orderly procedure. (G.R. No. 176484; November 25, 2008)