Case Digest: Paulino v. NLRC & PLDT

G.R. No. 176184 : June 13, 2012




On 16 January 1995, petitioner, who was then employed by PLDT as Cable Splicer III,surrendered his service vehicle to PLDT motor pool for body repairs. For this reason, he unloaded the company-issued plant materials contained in the vehicle and stored them at his residence for safekeeping.

For 1 month and 11 days, PLDT properties were in the custody of petitioner. On 27 February 1995, members of the PNP, armed with a search warrant, searched his house and found several items/materials belonging to PLDT.

At that time, based on the investigation by the PNP, petitioner did not present any documents or requisition slips that would justify his possession of the materials.Consequently, PLDT caused the filing of an Information for qualified theft against him.

After several meetings and investigations, on 26 May 1995, Pesayco, petitioner manager, informed petitioner in writing that since he was not able to clarify certain matters regarding the issue that would have warranted an evaluation of his case, the company was terminating his services effective on the said date.

Three years later, after the criminal case for qualified theft had been terminated for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt, petitioner filed a Complaint for Illegal Dismissal which the Labor Arbiter dismissed for utter lack of merit. The LA found petitioner possession of valuable and material company properties to be highly suspect.In addition, it was "fully irregular that a highly efficient Company, such as herein respondent, would allow any of its employees to place expensive and necessary properties for personal safe-keeping."

Aggrieved, petitioner pursued his action before the NLRC. The labor court, however, affirmed the LA Decision in toto. Thus, petitioner appealed to the CA. However, the CA still ruled against petitioner.

ISSUE: Whether or not the Court of Appeals gravely erred in upholding Paulino dismissal as valid based on just cause?

HELD: The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

The Labor Code recognizes that an employer, for just cause, may validly terminate the services of an employee for serious misconduct or willful disobedience of the lawful orders of the employer or representative in connection with the employee work. Fraud or willful breach by the employee of the trust reposed by the employer in the former, or simply loss of confidence, also justifies an employee dismissal from employment.

Notwithstanding petitioner acquittal in the criminal case for qualified theft,respondent PLDT had adequately established the basis for the company loss of confidence as a just cause to terminate petitioner. This is just correct since proof beyond reasonable doubt of an employee misconduct is not required in dismissing an employee. Rather, as opposed to the "proof beyond reasonable doubt" standard of evidence required in criminal cases, labor suits require only substantial evidence to prove the validity of the dismissal.

Willful breach of trust or loss of confidence requires that the employee (1) occupied a position of trust or (2) was routinely charged with the care of the employer property. As correctly appreciated by the CA, petitioner was charged with the care and custody of PLDT property.

To warrant dismissal based on loss of confidence, there must be some basis for the loss of trust or the employer must have reasonable grounds to believe that the employee is responsible for misconduct that renders the latter unworthy of the trust and confidence demanded by his or her position. Here, petitioner disputes the sufficiency of PLDT basis for loss of trust and confidence. He alleges that he did not steal the plant materials, considering that he had lawful possession.

However, assuming that he lawfully possessed the materials, PLDT still had ample reason or basis to already distrust petitioner. For more than a month, he did not even inform PLDT of the whereabouts of the plant materials. Instead, he stocked these materials at his residence even if they were needed in the daily operations of the company. In keeping with the honesty and integrity demanded by his position, he should have turned over these materials to the plant warehouse.

The fact that petitioner did not present any documents or requisition slips at the time that the PNP took the plant materials logically excites suspicion. In addition, PLDT received a security report stating that petitioner had engaged in the illicit disposal of its plant materials, which were recovered during the search conducted at his residence

Thus, PLDT reasonably suspected petitioner of stealing the company property. At that juncture, the employer may already dismiss the employee since it had reasonable grounds to believe or to entertain the moral conviction that the latter was responsible for the misconduct, and the nature of his participation therein rendered him absolutely unworthy of the trust and confidence demanded by his position.

In a final effort to impugn his dismissal, petitioner claims that he could only be faulted for breaching PLDT rules and regulations which prohibited the employees from bringing home company materials. In this regard, petitioner exacerbates his position. By admitting that he breached company rules, he buttressed his employer claim that he committed serious misconduct.

Employees cannot take company rules for granted, especially in this case where petitioner breach involved various plant materials that may cause major disruption in the company operations. Indeed, an employer may discharge an employee for refusal to obey a reasonable company rule.As a rule, although this Court leans over backwards to help workers and employees continue with their employment, acts of dishonesty in the handling of company property are a different matter.

Given these circumstances, it would have been unfair for PLDT to keep petitioner in its employ. Petitioner displayed actions that made him untrustworthy. Thus, as a measure of self-protection, PLDT validly terminated his services for serious misconduct and loss of confidence.