Case Digest: Naranjo, et al. v. Biomedica

G.R. No. 193789 : September 19, 2012




Petitioners Alex Naranjo (Naranjo), Ronald Allan Cruz, Rowena Bardaje, Donnalyn De Guzman and Rosemarie Pimentel were all employees of Biomedica Health Care, Inc. (Biomedica).

On November 7, 2006, Naranjo, et al. were all absent for various personal reasons. The next day, Naranjo, et al. came in for work but were not allowed to enter the premises. Carina Motol (Motol), Biomedicas president, informed them using foul language, to just find other employment.

Subsequently, Biomedica issued notices to Naranjo, et al. accusing them of having conducted an illegal strike and were accordingly directed to explain within twenty-four (24) hours to explain why they should not be held guilty of and dismissed for violating the company policy against illegal strikes under Article XI, Category Four, Sections 6, 8, 12, 18 and 25 of the Company Policy.Biomedica, however, failed to furnish them with the copy of the said company policy.

Naranjo, et al. failed to submit their written explanation. Thus, Biomedica served Notices of Termination stating that Naranjo, et al. engaged in illegal strike. Consequently, Naranjo et al. filed a complaint for illegal dismissal. The LA dismissed the complaint. The NLRC reversed the LA. On appeal to the CA, the CA reinstated the decision of the LA.

ISSUE: Whether or not Naranjo, et al. were illegally dismissed?

HELD: The petition is meritorious.

LABOR LAW: illegal dismissal; mass leave; strike

Petitioners were not afforded procedural due process.Thus, the Court elaborated in King of Kings Transport, Inc. v. Mamac that a mere general description of the charges against an employee by the employer is insufficient to comply with the above provisions of the law. Clearly, petitioners were charged with conducting an illegal strike, not a mass leave, without specifying the exact acts that the company considers as constituting an illegal strike or violative of company policies.

Further, while Biomedica cites the provisions of the company policy which petitioners purportedly violated, it failed to quote said provisions in the notice so petitioners can be adequately informed of the nature of the charges against them and intelligently file their explanation and defenses to said accusations.

Moreover, the period of 24 hours allotted to petitioners to answer the notice was severely insufficient and in violation of the implementing rules of the Labor Code. Under the implementing rule of Art. 277, an employee should be given "reasonable opportunity" to file a response to the notice. King of Kings Transport, Inc. elucidates in this wise: " Reasonable opportunity under the Omnibus Rules means every kind of assistance that management must accord to the employees to enable them to prepare adequately for their defense. This should be construed as a period of at least five (5) calendar days from receipt of the notice to give the employees an opportunity to study the accusation against them, consult a union official or lawyer, gather data and evidence, and decide on the defenses they will raise against the complaint."

In addition, Biomedica did not set the charges against petitioners for hearing or conference in accordance with Sec. 2, Book V, Rule XIII of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Labor Code and in line with ruling in King of Kings Transport, Inc., where the Court explained: "After serving the first notice, the employers should schedule and conduct a hearing or conference wherein the employees will be given the opportunity to: (1) explain and clarify their defenses to the charge against them; (2) present evidence in support of their defenses; and (3) rebut the evidence presented against them by the management."

Petitioners were denied substantive due process. Clearly, to justify the dismissal of an employee on the ground of serious misconduct, the employer must first establish that the employee is guilty of improper conduct, that the employee violated an existing and valid company rule or regulation, or that the employee is guilty of a wrongdoing. In the instant case, Biomedica failed to even establish that petitioners indeed violated company rules, failing to even present a copy of the rules and to prove that petitioners were made aware of such regulations.

Petitioners did not stage a mass leave. The term "Mass Leave" has been left undefined by the Labor Code. Plainly, the legislature intended that the terms ordinary sense be used. "Mass" is defined as "participated in, attended by, or affecting a large number of individuals; having a large-scale character." While the term "Leave" is defined as "an authorized absence or vacation from duty or employment usually with pay." Thus, the phrase "mass leave" may refer to a simultaneous availment of authorized leave benefits by a large number of employees in a company. It is undeniable that going on leave or absenting ones self from work for personal reasons when they have leave benefits available is an employees right. Here, the five (5) petitioners were absent on November 7, 2006. The records are bereft of any evidence to establish how many workers are employed in Biomedica. There is no evidence on record that 5 employees constitute a substantial number of employees of Biomedica.

Petitioners did not go on strike. Art. 212(o) of the Labor Code defines a strike as "any temporary stoppage of work by the concerted action of employees as a result of any industrial or labor dispute." "Concerted" is defined as "mutually contrived or planned" or "performed in unison." In the case at bar, the 5 petitioners went on leave for various reasons.Petitioners were in different places on November 7, 2006 to attend to their personal needs or affairs. They did not go to the company premises to petition Biomedica for their grievance. This shows that there was NO intent to go on strike.

Dismissal is not the proper penalty. But setting aside from the nonce the facts established above, the most pivotal argument against the dismissal of petitioners is that the penalty of dismissal from employment cannot be imposed even if we assume that petitioners went on an illegal strike. It has not been shown that petitioners are officers of the Union. On this issue, the NLRC correctly cited Gold City Integrated Port Service, Inc. v. NLRC, wherein We ruled that: "An ordinary striking worker cannot be terminated for mere participation in an illegal strike. There must be proof that he committed illegal acts during a strike."