Case Digest: Fernandez v. Newfield

G.R. No. 201979 : JULY 10, 2013




Respondent Newfield Staff Solutions, Inc. (Newfield) hired Fernandez as Recruitment Manager starting September 30, 2008 with a salary of P50,000 and an allowance of P6,000 per month. It was provided in the employment agreement that Fernandez will receive a loyalty bonus of P60,000 and life insurance worth P500,000 upon reaching 6 months of employment with Newfield. Newfield also hired Beltran as probationary Recruitment specialist starting October 7, 2008 with a salary of P15,000 and an allowance of P2,000 per month. Her employment contract provided that Beltran will receive a 10% salary and allowance increase upon reaching 12 months of employment. Petitioners guaranteed to perform their tasks for 6 months and breach of this guarantee would make them liable for liquidated damages of P45,000.

On October 17, 2008, respondent Jay Lopez, Jr., Newfields General Manager, terminated the employment of petitioners on the ground that they failed to perform satisfactorily. A week later, petitioners received Jays return-to-work letters. It stated that they did not report since October 20, 2008 without resigning, in violation of their employment agreement.

The petitioners filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, nonpayment of salary and overtime pay, reimbursement of cell phone billing, moral and exemplary damages against respondents.

The LA ruled that petitioners dismissal was illegal. It rejected respondents claim of abandonment. The NLRC affirmed the LAs decision. The CA reversed the NLRC decision and ruled that petitioners abandoned their jobs and pre-terminated their six-month employment agreements.

ISSUE: Whether or not petitioners were illegally dismissed?

HELD: The petitioners were illegally dismissed.

LABOR LAW: abandonment

Petitioners stated in their verified position paper that Lopez, Jr. fired them on October 17, 2008, told them that it was their last day and ordered them to turn over the records to their successors. We reviewed respondents verified position paper and reply to petitioners position paper filed before the Labor Arbiter and found nothing there denying what happened as stated under oath by petitioners. Respondents merely said that no evidence shows or even hints that petitioners were forced not to report for work and that petitioners abandoned their jobs. Even respondents appeal memorandum filed before the NLRC is silent on petitioners claim that Lopez, Jr. fired them. Respondents silence constitutes an admission that fortifies the truth of petitioners narration.

Abandonment is a form of neglect of duty, one of the just causes for an employer to terminate an employee. For abandonment to exist, two factors must be present: (1) the failure to report for work or absence without valid or justifiable reason; and (2) a clear intention to sever the employer-employee relationship, with the second element as the more determinative factor being manifested by some overt acts.

Petitioners are not fixed-term employees but probationary employees. Respondents even admitted that Beltran was hired as probationary Recruitment Specialist. A probationary employee may be terminated for a just or authorized cause or when he fails to qualify as a regular employee in accordance with reasonable standards prescribed by the employer.

Since both factors are not present, petitioners are not guilty of abandonment. One, petitioners were absent because Lopez, Jr. had fired them. Thus, we cannot fault them for refusing to comply with the return-to-work letters and responding instead with their demand letters. Neither can they be accused of being AWOL or of breaching their employment agreements. Indeed, as stated above, respondents cannot claim that no evidence shows that petitioners were forced not to report for work. Two, petitioners protest of their dismissal by sending demand letters and filing a complaint for illegal dismissal with prayer for reinstatement convinces us that petitioners have no intention to sever the employment relationship. Employees who take steps to protest their dismissal cannot logically be said to have abandoned their work. A charge of abandonment is totally inconsistent with the immediate filing of a complaint for illegal dismissal. The filing thereof is proof enough of ones desire to return to work, thus negating any suggestion of abandonment. GRANTED.