Case Digest: MZR Industries v. Colambot

G.R. No. 179001 : August 28, 2013




Petitioner Marilou Quiroz, Owner and Vice-President for Finance and Marketing of MZR, hired respondent Majen Colambot (Colambot) as messenger. However, beginning 2002, Colambot's work performance started to deteriorate. Petitioners issued several memoranda to Colambot for habitual tardiness, negligence, and violations of office policies.He was also given written warnings for insubordination committed on several occasions.

Despite multiple warnings, Colambot failed to mend his ways. Hence, a notice of suspension for insubordination and negligence was issued against Colambot. Colambot was subsequently suspended from Nov. 26- Dec 6, 2004 for insubordination.

Petitioners claimed they waited for Colambot to report back for work on December 7, 2004, but they never heard from him anymore. Later, petitioners were surprised to find out that Colambot had filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, illegal suspension, underpayment of salaries, holiday pay, service incentive pay, 13th month pay and separation pay.

Petitioners, however, insisted that while Colambot was suspended due to insubordination and negligence, they maintained that they never terminated Colambot's employment. They added that Colambot's failure to report for work since December 7, 2004 without any approved vacation or sick leave constituted abandonment of his work, but they never terminated his employment. Petitioners further emphasized that even with Colambot's filing of the complaint against them, his employment with MZR has not been terminated.

LA ruled in favor of respondent, holding the latter has been illegally dismissed and that there was no abandonment as there was no deliberate intent on the part of Colambot to sever the employer-employee relationship. The Labor Arbiter likewise noted that Colambot should have been notified to return back to work, which petitioner failed to do.

On appeal, the NLRC reversed the decision and pointed out that Colambot's complaint was unsupported by any evidence and was not even made under oath, thus, lacking in credibility and probative value. The NLRC further believed that Colambot abandoned his work due to his refusal to report for work after his suspension. The failure of MZR to notify Colambot to return back to work is not tantamount to actual dismissal.

Colambot filed a motion for reconsideration, but was denied. Thus, via a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, before the CA. The CA reversed the NLRC decision. The appellate court ruled that Colambot was illegally dismissed based on the grounds that : (1) MZR failed to prove abandonment on the part of Colambot, and (2) MZR failed to serve Colambot with the required written notices of dismissal.

ISSUE: Whether or not Colambot was illegally dismissed.

HELD: No. CA decision reversed and set aside.

Labor Law

In illegal dismissal cases, the employer bears the burden of proving that the termination was for a valid or authorized cause, in the present case, however, the facts and the evidence do not establish a prima facie case that the employee was dismissed from employment. Before the employer must bear the burden of proving that the dismissal was legal, the employee must first establish by substantial evidence the fact of his dismissal from service. If there is no dismissal, then there can be no question as to the legality or illegality thereof.

In the present case, other than Colambot's unsubstantiated allegation of having been verbally terminated from his work, there was no evidence presented to show that he was indeed dismissed from work or was prevented from returning to his work. In the absence of any showing of an overt or positive act proving that petitioners had dismissed respondent, the latter's claim of illegal dismissal cannot be sustained as the same would be self-serving, conjectural and of no probative value.

A review of the Notice of Suspension dated November 25, 2004 shows that respondent was merely suspended from work for 6 days, there was, however, no evidence that Colambot was terminated from work.

While the same appeared to contain a warning of termination should Colambot fail to improve his behavior, it is likewise apparent that there was also a specific instruction for him to report back to work, on December 7, 2004, upon serving his suspension. The subject of the Letter, i.e., "Suspension due to Insubordination," the wordings and content of the letter is a clear-cut notice of suspension, and not a notice of termination. The notice of suspension may have contained warnings of termination, but it must be noted that such was conditioned on the ground that Colambot would fail to improve his attitude/behavior. There were no wordings whatsoever implying actual or constructive dismissal. Thus, Colambot's general allegation of having been orally dismissed from the service as against the clear wordings and intent of the notice of suspension which he signed, we are then inclined to believe that there was no dismissal.

Neither could the petitioners be blamed for failing to order respondent to return back to work. Records show that Colambot immediately filed the complaint for illegal dismissal on December 16, 2004, or just a few days when he was supposed to report back to work on December 7, 2004. For petitioners to order respondent to report back to work, after the latter had already filed a case for illegal dismissal, would be unsound.

However, while the Court concurs with the conclusion of the NLRC that there was no illegal dismissal, no dismissal having actually taken place, the Court does not agree with its findings that Colambot committed abandonment of work.

Labor Law

This Court consistently held that to constitute abandonment of work, two elements must be present : first, the employee must have failed to report for work or must have been absent without valid or justifiable reason; and second, there must have been a clear intention on the part of the employee to sever the employer-employee relationship manifested by some overt act.

In the instant case, other than Colambot's failure to report back to work after suspension, petitioners failed to present any evidence which tend to show his intent to abandon his work. It is a settled rule that mere absence or failure to report for work is not enough to amount to abandonment of work. There must be a concurrence of the intention to abandon and some overt acts from which an employee may be deduced as having no more intention to work.

These circumstances, taken together, the lack of evidence of dismissal and the lack of intent on the part of the respondent to abandon his work, the remedy is reinstatement but without backwages. However, considering that reinstatement is no longer applicable due to the strained relationship between the parties and that Colambot already found another employment, each party must bear his or her own loss, thus, placing them on equal footing.