CASE DIGEST: Robinsons Galleria v. Ranchez (G.R. No. 177937)

G.R. No. 177937, January 19, 2011 | ROBINSONS GALLERIA/ROBINSONS SUPERMARKET CORPORATION and/or JESS MANUEL, petitioners, vs. IRENE R. RANCHEZ, respondents. NACHURA, J.:FACTS: Respondent Ranchez was a probationary employee for 5 months. She was hired as a cashier by Robinsons sometime within that period. Two weeks after she was hired, she reported the loss of cash which she had placed in the company locker. She offered to pay for the lost amount but the Operations Manager of Robinsons had her strip-searched then reported her to the police even though they found nothing on her person. An information for Qualified Theft was filed with the Quezon City Regional Trial Court. She was detained for 2 weeks for failure to immediately post bail. Weeks later, respondent Ranchez filed a complaint for illegal dismissal and damages. A year later, Robinsons sent to respondent by mail a notice of termination and/or notice of expiration of probationary employment.

The Labor Arbiter dismissed the complaint for illegal dismissal, alleging that at the time of filing respondent Ranchez had not yet been terminated. She was merely investigated. However, the NLRC reversed this ruling, stating that Ranchez was illegally dismissed and that Robinson's should reinstate her. It held that Ranchez was deprived of due process when she was strip-searched and sent to jail for two weeks because such amounted to constructive dismissal, making it impossible for the respondent to continue under the employment. Even though she was merely a probationary employee, the lapse of the probationary contract did not amount to a valid dismissal because there was already an unwarranted constructive dismissal beforehand.

The NLRC denied Robinson's motion for reconsideration. The CA affirmed the decision of the NLRC.

ISSUE: Whether respondent was illegally terminated from employment by petitioners.

HELD: The petition is unmeritorious. There is probationary employment when the employee upon his engagement is made to undergo a trial period during which the employer determines his fitness to qualify for regular employment based on reasonable standards made known to him at the time of engagement.

A probationary employee, like a regular employee, enjoys security of tenure.However, in cases of probationary employment, aside from just or authorized causes of termination, an additional ground is provided under Article 281 of the Labor Code,i.e., the probationary employee may also be terminated for failure to qualify as a regular employee in accordance with reasonable standards made known by the employer to the employee at the time of the engagement.Thus, the services of an employee who has been engaged on probationary basis may be terminated for any of the following:

(1) a just or
(2) an authorized cause; and
(3) when he fails to qualify as a regular employee in accordance with reasonable standards prescribed by the employer.

Article 277(b) of the Labor Code mandates that the employer shall furnish the worker, whose employment is sought to be terminated, a written notice containing a statement of the causes of termination, and shall afford the latter ample opportunity to be heard and to defend himself with the assistance of a representative if he so desires, in accordance with company rules and regulations pursuant to the guidelines set by the Department of Labor and Employment.

In the instant case, based on the facts on record, petitioners failed to accord respondent substantive and procedural due process.The haphazard manner in the investigation of the missing cash, which was left to the determination of the police authorities and the Prosecutor's Office, left respondent with no choice but to cry foul.Administrative investigation was not conducted by petitioner Supermarket.On the same day that the missing money was reported by respondent to her immediate superior, the company already pre-judged her guilt without proper investigation, and instantly reported her to the police as the suspected thief, which resulted in her languishing in jail for two weeks.

The due process requirements under the Labor Code are mandatory and may not be replaced with police investigation or court proceedings. An illegally or constructively dismissed employee, respondent is entitled to: (1) either reinstatement, if viable, or separation pay, if reinstatement is no longer viable; and (2) backwages. These two reliefs are separate and distinct from each other and are awarded conjunctively.

In this case, since respondent was a probationary employee at the time she was constructively dismissed by petitioners, she is entitled to separation pay and backwages. Reinstatement of respondent is no longer viable considering the circumstances. DENIED.