Case Digest: Cosmos Bottling v. Fermin

G.R. No. 193676 : June 20, 2012




Wilson B. Fermin (Fermin) was a forklift operator at Cosmos Bottling Corporation (COSMOS), where he started his employment on 27 August 1976.On 16 December 2002, he was accused of stealing the cellphone of his fellow employee, Luis Braga (Braga). Fermin was then given a Show Cause Memorandum, requiring him to explain why the cellphone was found inside his locker.In compliance therewith, he submitted an affidavit the following day, explaining that he only hid the phone as a practical joke and had every intention of returning it to Braga.

After conducting an investigation, COSMOS found Fermin guilty of stealing Bragas phone in violation of company rules and regulations. Consequently, on 2 October 2003,the company terminated Fermin from employment after 27 years of service,effective on 6 October 2003.

Following the dismissal of Fermin from employment, Braga executed an affidavit, which stated the belief that the former had merely pulled a prank without any intention of stealing the cellphone, and withdrew from COSMOS his complaint against Fermin.

Meanwhile, Fermin filed a Complaint for Illegal Dismissal, which the Labor Arbiter (LA) dismissed for lack of merit on the ground that the act of taking a fellow employees cellphone amounted to gross misconduct.Further, the LA likewise took into consideration Fermins other infractions, namely: (a) committing acts of disrespect to a superior officer, and (b) sleeping on duty and abandonment of duty.

Fermin filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), which affirmed the ruling of the LA[and denied Fermins subsequent Motion for Reconsideration.

Thereafter, Fermin filed a Petition for Certiorari with the Court of Appeals (CA),which reversed the rulings of the LA and the NLRC and awarded him his full retirement benefits.Although the CA accorded with finality the factual findings of the lower tribunals as regards Fermins commission of theft, it nevertheless held that the penalty of dismissal from service was improper on the ground that the said violation did not amount to serious misconduct or wilful disobedience.

COSMOS and Fermin moved for reconsideration, but the CA likewise denied their motions.Thus, both parties filed the present Petitions for Review.

ISSUE: Whether the imposition of the penalty of dismissal was appropriate

HELD: We rule in the affirmative.

LABOR LAW: theft against a co-employee is analogous to serious misconduct

Theft committed against a co-employee is considered as a case analogous to serious misconduct, for which the penalty of dismissal from service may be meted out to the erring employee,viz:

Article 282 of the Labor Code provides:

Article 282. Termination by Employer. - An employer may terminate an employment for any of the following causes:

(a)Serious misconductor willful disobendience by the employee of the lawful orders of his employer or his representativesin connection with his work;

x x x x x x x x x

(e) Other causes analogous to the foregoing.

LABOR LAW: misconduct

Misconduct involves the transgression of some established and definite rule of action, forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, willful in character, and implies wrongful intent and not mere error in judgment.For misconduct to be serious and therefore a valid ground for dismissal, it must be:

1. of grave and aggravated character and not merely trivial or unimportant and

2. connected with the work of the employee.

In this case, petitioner dismissed respondent based on the NBI's finding that the latter stole and used Yusecos credit cards. Butsince the theft was not committed against petitioner itself but against one of its employees,respondent's misconduct was not work-related and therefore, she could not be dismissed for serious misconduct.

Nonetheless, Article 282(e) of the Labor Code talks of other analogous causes or those which are susceptible of comparison to another in general or in specific detail.For an employee to be validly dismissed for a cause analogous to those enumerated in Article 282, the cause must involve a voluntary and/or willful act or omission of the employee.

A cause analogous to serious misconduct is a voluntary and/or willful act or omission attesting to an employees moral depravity.Theft committed by an employee against a person other than his employer, if proven by substantial evidence, is a cause analogous to serious misconduct.

In this case, the LA has already made a factual finding, which was affirmed by both the NLRC and the CA, that Fermin had committed theft when he took Bragas cellphone. Thus, this act is deemed analogous to serious misconduct, rendering Fermins dismissal from service just and valid.

Further, the CA was correct in ruling that previous infractions may be cited as justification for dismissing an employee only if they are related to the subsequent offense. However, it must be noted that such a discussion was unnecessary since the theft, taken in isolation from Fermins other violations, was in itself a valid cause for the termination of his employment.

Finally, it must be emphasized that the award of financial compensation or assistance to an employee validly dismissed from service has no basis in law. Therefore, considering that Fermins act of taking the cellphone of his co-employee is a case analogous to serious misconduct, this Court is constrained to reverse the CAs ruling as regards the payment of his full retirement benefits. In the same breath, neither can this Court grant his prayer for backwages.

G.R. No. 194303 is DENIED.

G.R. No. 193676 is GRANTED.