Case Digest: Cavite Apparel v. Marquez

G.R. No. 172044 : February 06, 2013

CAVITE APPAREL, INCORPORATED and ADRIANO TIMOTEO, Petitioner, v. MICHELLE MARQUEZ, Respondent.

BRION, J.:

FACTS:

Cavite Apparel is a domestic corporation engaged in the manufacture of garments for export. On August 22, 1994, it hired Michelle as a regular employee in its Finishing Department. Michelle enjoyed, among other benefits, vacation and sick leaves of seven (7) days each per annum. Prior to her dismissal on June 8, 2000, Michelle committed the following infractions (with their corresponding penalties): (a) First Offense: Absence without leave (AWOL) on December 6, 1999 written warning; (b) Second Offense: AWOL on January 12, 2000 stern warning with three (3) days suspension; (c) Third Offense: AWOL on April 27, 2000 suspension for six (6) days.

She incurred the following absences on May 8, 2000 and on May 15-17, 2000, respectively due to illness. When she returned, she submitted the necessary medical certificates. Cavite Apparel, however, denied receipt of the certificate and suspended Michelle for six (6) days (June 1-7, 2000).

When Michelle returned on June 8, 2000, Cavite Apparel terminated her employment for habitual absenteeism. On July 4, 2000, Michelle filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with prayer for reinstatement, backwages and attorneys fees with the NLRC.

The LA dismissed the complaint and held that Michelles four absences without official leave as habitual and constitutive gross neglect of duty is just ground for termination of employment; that Cavite Apparel was afforded Michelle and opportunity to explain her side. Thus the dismissal was valid.

On appeal, NLRC reversed LAs decision. It noted that for Michelles first three absences, she had already been penalized ranging from a written warning to six days suspension declared. With these, it should have precluded Cavite Apparel from using Michelles past absences as bases to impose on her the penalty of dismissal, considering her six years of service with the company. Thus Michelle had been illegally dismissed and ordered her reinstatement with backwages.

On appeal to the CA, the Court held that while habitual absenteeism without official leave, in violation of company rules, is sufficient reason to dismiss an employee, it nevertheless did not consider Michelles four absences as habitual. It especially noted that Michelle submitted a medical certificate for her May 8, 2000 absence, that Michelle submitted a medical certificate for her May 8, 2000 absence, and thus disregarded Cavite Apparels contrary assertion. The CA explained that Michelles failure to attach a copy of the medical certificate in her initiatory pleading did not disprove her claim.

The CA denied Cavite Apparels motion for reconsideration. Hence, this petition.

ISSUE:

Whether or not Michelles four (4) absences were habitual, thus, warranting her dismissal to be valid?


HELD:

The petition is unmeritorious.


LABOR LAW

Neglect of duty, to be a ground for dismissal under Article 282 of the Labor Code, must be both gross and habitual. Gross negligence implies want of care in the performance of ones duties. Habitual neglect impartsrepeated failure to perform ones duties for a period of time, depending on the circumstances. Under these standards and the circumstances obtaining in the case, the Court agrees with the CA that Michelle is not guilty of gross and habitual neglect of duties.

Cavite Apparels contention, among others that, the totality of Michelles infractions justifies her dismissal failed to convince the Court.

Accordingly, there simply cannot be a case of gross and habitual neglect of duty against Michelle. Even assuming that she failed to present a medical certificate for her sick leave on May 8, 2000, the records are bereft of any indication that apart from the four occasions when she did not report for work, Michelle had been cited for any infraction since she started her employment with the company in 1994. Four absences in her six years of service cannot be considered gross and habitual neglect of duty, especially so since the absences were spread out over a six-month period.

REMEDIAL LAW

The Court does not review questions of fact, but only questions of law in an appeal by certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. The Court is not a trier of facts and will not review the factual findings of the lower tribunals as these are generally binding and conclusive. The rule though is not absolute as the Court may review the facts in labor cases where the findings of the CA and of the labor tribunals are contradictory.

In the case bar, the Court found sufficient basis for a review as the factual findings of the LA, on the one hand, and those of the CA and the NLRC, on the other hand, are conflicting.

Thus, the Court did not find reversible error committed by the CA when it found no grave abuse of discretion in the NLRC ruling that Michelle had been illegally dismissed.

LABOR LAW

Although Michelle was fully aware of the company rules regarding leaves of absence, and her dismissal might have been in accordance with the rules, the Court is not bound by such rules. The Court will not hesitate to disregard a penalty that is manifestly disproportionate to the infraction committed.

Michelle might have been guilty of violating company rules on leaves of absence and employee discipline, still the penalty of dismissal imposed on her unjustified under the circumstances. While previous infractions may be used to support an employees dismissal from work in connection with a subsequent similar offense and that that although employers enjoy a wide latitude of discretion in the formulation of work-related policies, rules and regulations, their directives and the implementation of their policies must be fair and reasonable; at the very least, penalties must be commensurate to the offense involved and to the degree of the infraction. Michelles dismissal is not considered to be commensurate to the four absences she incurred for her six years of service with the company, even granting that she failed to submit on time a medical certificate for her May 8, 2000 absence.

Thus, Michelle has been illegally dismissed.

LABOR LAW

While the Court recognizes managements prerogative to discipline its employees, the exercise of this prerogative should at all times be reasonable and should be tempered with compassion and understanding.

Dismissal is the ultimate penalty that can be imposed on an employee. Where a penalty less punitive may suffice, whatever missteps may be committed by labor not ought to be visited with a consequence so severe for what is at stake is not merely the employees position but his very livelihood and perhaps the life and subsistence of his family.

DENIED

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