CASE DIGEST: Dreamland Hotel vs. Johnson

G.R. No. 191455 March 12, 2014




Petitioner Dreamland with its President, Westley Prentice, is a corporation engaged in the hotel, restaurant and allied businesses. Respondent Stephen B. Johnson is an Australian citizen who came to the Philippines as a businessman/investor without the authority to be employed as the employee/officer of any business as he was not able to secure his Alien Employment Permit.

Sometime on June 21, 2007, Prentice and Johnson entered into an Employment Agreement, which stipulates among others, that Johnson shall serve as Operations Manager of Dreamland from August 1, 2007 and shall serve as such for a period of three (3) years.

From the start of August 2007, as stipulated in the Employment Agreement, respondent Johnson already reported for work. It was then that he found out to his dismay that the resort was far from finished. However, he was instructed to supervise construction and speak with potential guests. He also undertook the overall preparation of the guestrooms and staff for the opening of the hotel, even performing menial tasks.

As Johnson remained unpaid since August 2007 and he has loaned all his money to petitioners, he asked for his salary after the resort was opened in October 2007 but the same was not given to him by petitioners. Johnson became very alarmed with the situation as it appears that there was no intention to pay him his salary.

On November 3, 2007, after another embarrassment was handed out by petitioner Prentice in front of the staff, which highlighted his lack of real authority in the hotel and the disdain for him by petitioners, respondent Johnson was forced to submit his resignation. Johnson filed a case for illegal dismissal and non-payment of salaries against petitioners.

LA dismissed the complaint, holding that Johnson voluntarily resigned from his employment. On appeal, the NLRC reversed the LAs decision and ordered petitioners to pay. CA dismissed the appeal on the ground of technicalities.

ISSUE: Whether or not Johnson voluntarily resigned

HELD: No. NLRC decision reinstated.

Labor Law - Constructive dismissal

Although the resort did not open until approximately 8th October 2007, Johnson's employment began, as per Employment Agreement, on 1st August 2007. During the interim period, Johnson was frequently instructed by Prentice to supervise the construction staff and speak with potential future guests who visited the site out of curiosity.

The petitioners maintain that they have paid the amount of P7,200.00 to Johnson for his three weeks of service from October 8, 2007 until November 3, 2007, the date of Johnson's resignation,which Johnson did not controvert. Even so, the amount the petitioners paid to Johnson as his three-week salary is significantly deficient as Johnson's monthly salary as stipulated in their contract isP60,000.00. Thus, the amount which Johnson should have been paid is P45,000.00 and not P7,200.00. In light of this deficiency, there is more reason to believe that the petitioners withheld the salary of Johnson without a valid reason.

It only goes to show that while it was Johnson who tendered his resignation, it was due to the petitioners acts that he was constrained to resign. The petitioners cannot expect Johnson to tolerate working for them without any compensation.

Since Johnson was constructively dismissed, he was illegally dismissed. Thus, an illegally dismissed employee is entitled to two reliefs: backwages and reinstatement. The two reliefs provided are separate and distinct. In instances where reinstatement is no longer feasible because of strained relations between the employee and the employer, separation pay is granted. In effect, an illegally dismissed employee is entitled to either reinstatement, if viable, or separation pay if reinstatement is no longer viable, and backwages.

Labor Law - doctrine of strained relations

The accepted doctrine is that separation pay may avail in lieu of reinstatement if reinstatement is no longer practical or in the best interest of the parties. Separation pay in lieu of reinstatement may likewise be awarded if the employee decides not to be reinstated. Under the doctrine of strained relations, the payment of separation pay is considered an acceptable alternative to reinstatement when the latter option is no longer desirable or viable.

In the present case, the NLRC found that due to the strained relations between the parties, separation pay is to be awarded to Johnson in lieu of his reinstatement.

The NLRC held that Johnson is entitled to backwages from November 3, 2007 up to the finality of the decision; separation pay equivalent to one month salary; and unpaid salaries from August 1, 2007 to November 1, 2007 amounting to a total of P172,800.00.

While the Court agrees with the NLRC that the award of separation pay and unpaid salaries is warranted, the Court does not lose sight of the fact that the employment contract states that Johnson's employment is for a term of three years.

Accordingly, the award of backwages should be computed from November 3, 2007 to August 1, 2010 - which is three years from August 1, 2007. Furthermore, separation pay is computed from the commencement of employment up to the time of termination, including the imputed service for which the employee is entitled to backwages.