Case Digest: E.G & I. v. Sato, et al.

G.R. No. 182070 : February 16, 2011

E.G & I. CONSTRUCTION CORPORATION and EDSEL GALEOS, Petitioners, v. ANANIAS P. SATO, NILO BERDIN, ROMEO M. LACIDA, JR., and HEIRS OF ANECITO S. PARANTAR, SR., namely: YVONNE, KIMBERLY MAE, MARYKRIS, ANECITO, JR., and JOHN BRYAN, all surnamed PARANTAR, Respondents.

NACHURA, J.:

FACTS:


Respondent Ananias P. Sato was hired by petitioner E.G. & I. Construction Corporation as a grader operator, which is considered as technical labor. He held the position for more than thirteen (13) years. In 2004, Sato discovered that petitioner corporation had not been remitting his premium contributions to the Social Security System (SSS). When Sato kept on telling petitioners to update his premium contributions, he was removed as a grader operator and made to perform manual labor, such as tilling the land in a private cemetery and/or digging earthworks in petitioner corporations construction projects. Thereafter, an inspection team from the SSS went to petitioner corporations office to check its compliance with the SSS law. Petitioners told Sato that they could no longer afford to pay his wages, and he was advised to look for employment in other construction companies. Sato, however, found difficulty in finding a job because he had been blacklisted in other construction companies and was prevented from entering the project sites of petitioners.

Respondent Nilo Berdin was hired by petitioners as a steelman/laborer; respondent Anecito S. Parantar, Sr. hired as a steelman; and respondent Romeo M. Lacida, Jr. was as a laborer. At the start of their employment, they were required by petitioners to sign several documents purporting to be employment contracts. They immediately signed the documents without verifying their contents for fear of forfeiting their employment.

They were tasked to set up steel bars used in the building foundation, to mix cement, and to perform other tasks required of them by petitioners.

The project engineer of respondents Berdin, Parantar, and Lacida instructed them to affix their signatures on various documents. They refused to sign the documents because they were written in English, a language that they did not understand. Irked by their disobedience, the project engineer terminated their employment. On the same date, they were given their weekly wages. However, the wages that were paid to them were short of three (3) days worth of wages, as penalty for their refusal to sign the documents. The following day, they were not allowed to enter the work premises.

Respondents filed their respective complaints with the Regional Arbitration Branch of Cebu City for illegal dismissal, underpayment of wages (wage differentials), holiday pay, thirteenth (13th) month pay, and service incentive leave pay.

The Labor Arbiter held that the respondents were illegally dismissed from employment. In lieu of reinstatement, due to the strained relations of the parties and as prayed for by respondents, each of them was granted separation pay equivalent to one (1) month pay for every year of service. The Labor Arbiter likewise awarded respondents claim for wage differentials, 13th month pay, holiday pay, and service incentive leave pay.

On appeal, the NLRC, reversed the Labor Arbiters decision.

In reversing the decision of the Labor Arbiter, the NLRC ratiocinated that, other than respondents bare allegation that they were dismissed, they failed to present a written notice of dismissal, and that respondents individual complaints opted for the payment of separation pay instead of reinstatement. The NLRC opined that illegal dismissal was inconsistent with the prayer for separation pay instead of reinstatement. Respondents filed an MR but the same was denied.

Aggrieved, respondents filed a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court before the CA.

The CA reinstated the decision of the Labor Arbiter ruling that respondents were illegally dismissed. Hence, this petition.

ISSUE: Whether the CA erred in reinstating the decision of the Labor Arbiter, declaring that respondents were illegally terminated from employment by petitioner corporation, and that respondents are entitled to their monetary claims.

HELD: The decision of the Court of Appeals is sustained.

LABOR LAW

Petitioner corporation failed to prove that respondents were dismissed for just or authorized cause. In an illegal dismissal case, the onus probandi rests on the employer to prove that the dismissal of an employee is for a valid cause.

For abandonment to exist, it is essential (a) that the employee must have failed to report for work or must have been absent without valid or justifiable reason; and (b) that there must have been a clear intention to sever the employer-employee relationship manifested by some overt acts. The employer has the burden of proof to show the employee's deliberate and unjustified refusal to resume his employment without any intention of returning. Mere absence is not sufficient. There must be an unequivocal intent on the part of the employee to discontinue his employment. Uniwide Sales Warehouse Club v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 154503, February 29, 2008

The reason why respondents failed to report for work was because petitioner corporation barred them from entering its construction sites. It is a settled rule that failure to report for work after a notice to return to work has been served does not necessarily constitute abandonment. The intent to discontinue the employment must be shown by clear proof that it was deliberate and unjustified. Petitioner corporation failed to show overt acts committed by respondents from which it may be deduced that they had no more intention to work. Respondents filing of the case for illegal dismissal barely four (4) days from their alleged abandonment is totally inconsistent with our known concept of what constitutes abandonment.

LABOR LAW


Even as the employee must allege non-payment, the general rule is that the burden rests on the employer to prove payment, rather than on the employee to prove non-payment. The reason for the rule is that the pertinent personnel files, payrolls, records, remittances, and other similar documents which will show that overtime, differentials, service incentive leave, and other claims of the worker have been paid are not in the possession of the worker but in the custody and absolute control of the employer. Agabon v.NLRC, G.R. No. 158693, November 17, 2004

In this case, the submission of petitioner corporation of the time records and payrolls of respondents only on their appeal before the NLRC is contrary to elementary precepts of justice and fair play. Respondents were not given the opportunity to check the authenticity and correctness of the same. Thus, we sustain the ruling of the CA in the grant of the monetary claims of respondents.

DENIED.

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