Case Digest: Hospital Management Services v. Employees

G.R. No. 176287, January 31, 2011




Respondent De Castro was a staff nurse at Medical Center Manila. Calixijan, HRD Officer of Medical Center Manila issued a notice of termination upon respondent De Castro for alleged (1) negligence to follow company policy on what to do with patient RufinaCausaren who fell from a hospital bed; (2) failure to record and refer the incident to the physician-on-duty allowing a significant lapse of time before reporting the incident; (3) deliberately instructing the staff to follow her version of the incident in order to cover up the lapse; and (4) negligence and carelessness in carrying out her duty as staff nurse-on-duty when the incident happened.

Respondent De Castro, with the assistance of Medical Center Manila Employees Association-AFW, filed a Complaint for illegal dismissal against petitioners with prayer for reinstatement and payment of full backwages without loss of seniority rights, P20,000.00 moral damages, P10,000.00 exemplary damages, and 10% of the total monetary award as attorney's fees.

The Labor Arbiter ruled in favor of respondent De Castro, stating that although De Castro committed the act complained of, being her first offense, the penalty to be meted should not be dismissal from service, but merely 7 to 14 days suspension as the same was classified as a less serious offense under the Employee's Handbook.

The NLRC reversed the decision of the Labor Arbiter, stating that respondent De Castro lacked diligence and prudence in carrying out her duty when, instead of personally checking on the condition of patient Causaren after she fell from the bed, she merely sent ward-clerk orientee Guillergan to do the same in her behalf and for influencing her staff to conceal the incident.

The CA reversed the NLRC's ruling and reinstated the Labor Arbiter's ruling.

ISSUE: Whether the CA erred in affirming the illegal dismissal of respondent De Castro.

HELD: The petition is unmeritorious.

LABOR LAW - Illegal dismissals; negligence

Article 282 (b) of the Labor Code provides that an employer may terminate an employment for gross and habitual neglect by the employee of his duties. The CA ruled that per the Employees Handbook of petitioner hospital, respondent De Castros infraction is classified as a less serious offense for "commission of negligent acts during working time" as set forth in subparagraph 11, paragraph 3 (B) of Chapter XI[10] thereof. Petitioners anchor respondent De Castros termination of employment on the ground of serious misconduct for failure to personally attend to patient Causaren who fell from the bed as she was trying to reach for the bedpan. Based on her evaluation of the situation, respondent De Castro saw no necessity to record in the chart of patient Causarenthe fact that she fell from the bed as the patient did not suffer any injury and her vital signs were normal. She surmised that the incident was not of a magnitude that would require medical intervention as even the patient and her niece did not press charges against her by reason of the subject incident.

Neglect of duty, to be a ground for dismissal, must be both gross and habitual. Gross negligence connotes want of care in the performance of one's duties. Habitual neglect implies repeated failure to perform one's duties for a period of time, depending upon the circumstances. A single or isolated act of negligence does not constitute a just cause for the dismissal of the employee.

Negligence is defined as the failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation. The Court emphasizes that the nature of the business of a hospital requires a higher degree of caution and exacting standard of diligence in patient management and health care as what is involved are lives of patients who seek urgent medical assistance. An act or omission that falls short of the required degree of care and diligence amounts to serious misconduct which constitutes a sufficient ground for dismissal.

However, in some cases, the Court had ruled that sanctioning an erring employee with suspension would suffice as the extreme penalty of dismissal would be too harsh. Considering that this was the first offense of respondent De Castro in her nine (9) years of employment with petitioner hospital as a staff nurse without any previous derogatory record and, further, as her lapse was not characterized by any wrongful motive or deceitful conduct, the Court deems it appropriate that, instead of the harsh penalty of dismissal, she would be suspended for a period of six (6) months without pay, inclusive of the suspension for a period of 14 days which she had earlier served. Thereafter, petitioner hospital should reinstate respondent Edna R. De Castro to her former position without loss of seniority rights, full backwages, inclusive of allowances and other benefits, or their monetary equivalent, computed from the expiration of her suspension of six (6) months up to the time of actual reinstatement.

Petition is DENIED.

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