CASE DIGEST: Blazer Car vs. Spouses Bulauan (G.R. No. 181483; March 9, 2010)

CASE DIGEST: BLAZER CAR MARKETING,INC., and FREDDIE CHUA, Petitioners, v. SPOUSES TOMAS T. BULAUAN and ANALYN A. BRIONES, Respondents. G.R. No. 181483; March 9, 2010.

FACTS: Respondents spouses were employees of petitioner Blazer Car Marketing, Inc., which is owned and managed by petitioner Freddie Chua.Briones was hired on April 29, 1998 as secretary/warehouse clerk with a daily compensation of P270.00 plus P30.00 emergency cost of living allowance (ECOLA). Bulauan, on the other hand, worked as a driver from December 4, 1999 to May 4, 2002, and was rehired on March 24, 2003. He was receiving a daily wage of P280.00 (inclusive of ECOLA).

On November 18, 2003, respondent Briones filed against petitioners a complaint for illegal dismissal, non-payment of 13th month pay, and payment of separation pay and attorneys fees. On December 15, 2003, respondent Bulauan filed a similar complaint against petitioners. Upon motion of respondents, the two complaints were consolidated.

According to respondents, the company was raided by the NBI in 2001, based on a charge that Chua was engaged in the illegal manufacture and sale of car parts. Respondents posited that their dismissal was the result of Chua's suspicion that they were the ones who reported his illegal activities to the NBI.

Chua claimed that Briones was caught making company ID cards without management authority. Petitioner Chua maintained that Briones was not dismissed from employment, as in fact, during the mandatory conciliation conference, Briones was told that she had not been dismissed and that she could report back to work.However, Briones manifested that she no longer wished to work for petitioners.Petitioner Chua posited that Briones voluntarily stopped going to work to avoid being investigated, to cover up for her malfeasance, and to avoid being penalized. He claimed that Briones preempted further action on the matter when she no longer reported for work and filed her complaint the following day. As for respondent Bulauan, Chua explained that the former suddenly failed to report for work after learning that his wife was being investigated.

Respondents insisted that they were dismissed by petitioners; they did not voluntarily stop working.They averred that the charge that Briones issued unauthorized or fake ID cards was fabricated, the truth being that all the ID cards were made upon the directive of Chua.

On November 30, 2004, the LA dismissed the complaint, but ordered petitioners to pay prorated 13th month pay. On appeal, the NLRC affirmed the Labor Arbiters decision. It also denied respondents motion for reconsideration. On appeal, the CA ranted the petition and awarded backwages and separation pay, in lieu of reinstatement, to respondents.

Petitioners moved for reconsideration of the decision, but the motion was denied for lack of merit. Hence, this petition.
ISSUE: Were respondent spouses illegally dismissed from employment?

The CA's finding that respondents were dismissed from employment, and that such dismissal was without just cause is sustained.In a number of cases, it has been ruled that an employers claim that an employee was not dismissed but voluntarily left his employment is effectively belied by the filing of a complaint for illegal dismissal.It is settled, after all, that the filingof a complaintfor illegal dismissal is inconsistent with the charge of abandonment, for an employee who takes steps to protest his dismissal cannot, by logic, be said to have abandoned his work.It then becomes imperative that the employer affirmatively show rationally adequate evidence that the dismissal was for a justifiable cause.

The contention that respondent Briones was being investigated for making ID cards for the other employees, without authority, impresses us merely as a contrived excuse resorted to, simply to justify the unlawful dismissal.Its truthfulness is highly suspect.

In addition, it should be noted that in their affidavits, the witnesses did not mention that the ID cards were made by respondent Briones without petitioners consent or authority.On the contrary, there were references to the ID cards being made within company premises, then submitted to petitioner Chua for his signature. What is evident from the affidavits is that the ID cards were made primarily at the initiative of respondent Briones and at the expense of the employees. The affidavits,per se, cannot be taken as proof that the ID cards were made without petitioner's authority.
Misconduct is defined as improper or wrong conduct. It is the transgression of some established and definite rule of action, a forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, willful in character, and implies wrongful intent and not mere error of judgment. For misconduct to be a just cause for dismissal, (a) it must be serious; (b) it must relate to the performance of the employee's duties; and (c) it must show that the employee has become unfit to continue working for the employer. To be serious within the meaning and intendment of the law, the misconductmust be of such grave and aggravated character and not merely trivial and unimportant.It requires a wrongful intent, which is apparently absent in respondent Briones case.

In any case, the penalty of dismissal was not commensurate to the degree of the infraction purportedly committed.The Court is wont to reiterate that, while an employer has its own interest to protect, and pursuant thereto, it may terminate an employee for a just cause, such prerogative to dismiss an employee must be exercised without abuse of discretion. It should be tempered with compassion and understanding.An employer should bear in mind that, in the exercise of such right, what is at stake is not the employees position but her livelihood as well. Where a penalty less punitive would suffice, whatever missteps may have been committed by an employee ought not to be visited with a consequence so severe such as dismissal from employment. CA AFFIRMED.
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