Case Digest: Grandteq, et al. v. Estrella

G.R. No. 192416: March 23, 2011




Respondent Annaliza Estrella (Estrella) was hired by Petitioner Corporation as a sales engineer. Sometime in January 2004, Grandteq and Estrella entered into a Purchase/Assignment of Car Agreement whereby the former undertook to purchase a car for Estrella, who would in turn refund the purchase price to Grandteq in 100 monthly installments. The agreement likewise stated that the "company shall retain the ownership of the car until the car loan is fully paid." To complement the terms of the agreement, Estrella executed a Promissory Note.

When Estrella defaulted in her payments, Grandteq instructed her to leave the car in the office premises. However,Estrella failed to abide by the companys directive; hence, on, Grandteq sent her another memorandum requiring her to explain her "insubordination."

Estrella, arguing that she has claims against the company, filed a complaint for recovery of sales commissions, allowances, and other benefits before the Labor Arbiter (LA). The complaint alleged that Grandteq refused to release her sales commissions and incentives.

Meanwhile, Estrella filed an application for leave of absence, and subsequently, submitted a medical certificate recommending that she rest for three (3) weeks. Grandteq denied her application; nonetheless, she went on leave.

When Estrella tried to withdraw her salary for the period September 15 to 30, 2004 from an Automated Teller Machine. To her dismay, she discovered that her salary was not remitted by Grandteq. Estrella went to the office of Grandteq to report for work, but the security guard refused her entry, allegedly upon the behest of Grandteqs vice-president, De Leon. Aggrieved, respondent amended her complaint to include illegal dismissal as one of her causes of action. She also demanded for the payment of moral damages and attorneys fees.

The LA ruled in favor of Estrella and held that Grandteq had no justifiable cause to terminate her employment. On appeal, the NLRC found that Grandteq had valid grounds to dismiss Estrella since her allegation of illegal termination was not sufficiently substantiated by the security guards mere refusal to allow her entry into Grandteqs premises. Estrellas act of going on leave without Grandteqs approval constituted gross and habitual neglect of duty. The NLRC decreed that Grandteq merely failed to comply with procedural due process. Hence, the LAs decision was modified.

On further appeal, the CA reinstated the LA decision. Hence, petitioners interposed the present recourse when the CA deniedtheir motion for reconsideration.

ISSUE: Whether or not Estrella was validly dismissed

HELD: No. CA Decision Affirmed.

Labor Law

Loss of confidence as a just cause for termination of employment is premised on the fact that the employee concerned holds a position of trust and confidence, where greater trust is placed by management and from whom greater fidelity to duty is correspondingly expected.

Grandteq attributes loss of trust and confidence to the following acts: (1) insubordination when Estrella disobeyed a company directive ordering her to return a company vehicle; and (2) transacting, in her personal capacity, with a client of Grandteq.

Insubordination, as a just cause for the dismissal of an employee, necessitates the concurrence of at least two requisites: (1) the employee's assailed conduct must have been willful, that is, characterized by a wrongful and perverse attitude; and (2) the order violated must have been reasonable, lawful, made known to the employee, and must pertain to the duties which he had been engaged to discharge.

The facts of the case do not show the presence of the second requisite. The failure to return the vehicle and the Purchase/Assignment of Car Agreement, from which Grandteq derives its claim of ownership over the car, had no relation at all to the discharge of respondents duties as a sales engineer.

Grandteq also imputes gross and habitual neglect of duty when Estrella was absent from work for three (3) weeks without an approved application for leave.

Gross negligence connotes want of care in the performance of one's duties, while habitual neglect implies repeated failure to perform one's duties for a period of time, depending on the circumstances. The single or isolated act of negligence does not constitute a just cause for the dismissal of an employee.

Grandteq does not dispute receiving Estrellas Medical Certificate and worse, proffers no explanation why it did not act on Estrellas application for sick leave. And even if, arguendo, such absences were established, still, they would merit at best mere suspension from service. The penalty of dismissal would be too harsh, considering that apparently, management had no complaint as regards Estrellas quality of work.

More so that it is settled that an employees excusable and unavoidable absences do not amount to an abandonment of his employment. Abandonment, as a just and valid ground for termination, means the deliberate, unjustified refusal of an employee to resume his employment. For abandonment to be a valid ground for dismissal, two (2) elements must be proved: the intention of an employee to abandon, coupled with an overt act from which it may be inferred that the employee has no more intention to resume his work. The burden of proof is on the employer to show a clear and deliberate intent on the part of the employee to discontinue employment.

Here, these elements were not established. Estrellas actions after her absences negate an intent to abandon her job. Estrellas application for sick leave, the Medical Certificate she secured, and the letter from her lawyer that she was going on sick leave and more importantly, her going back to the company premises on October 15, 2004 all indicate her intention to resume work after the lapse of the period of her leave of absence.

We must stress anew that, in termination cases, the burden rests upon the employer to show that the dismissal of an employee is for just cause, and failure to do so would mean that the dismissal is not justified. Failure to discharge that burden would mean that the dismissal is not justified and, therefore, illegal.


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