Case Digest: Sunrise Holiday Concepts v. Arugay

G.R. No. 189457 : April 13, 2011

SUNRISE HOLIDAY CONCEPTS, INC., Petitioner, v. TERESA A. ARUGAY, Respondent.

NACHURA, J.:


FACTS:

The respondent was engaged by petitioner as Collection Manager under a six (6)-month probationary period. As part of her functions, respondent coordinated largely with her four (4) collectors and with clients, numbering more than two thousand (2,000), from whom she was collecting existing accounts for petitioner company. In the exercise of her functions, respondent made use of the company’s old mobile phone. Extensive coordination with company employees and with clients compelled respondent to bring the cellular phone out of the company premises.

The company accused the respondent in deliberate disregard of and disobedience to company policy. One of these company policies is the prohibition of bringing home company properties and using the same for personal purposes. The respondent was accused of repeatedly and habitually brining home the cellular phone issued to her by the company. Furthermore, she was accused of making several personal calls on said cellular phone during Saturdays and Sundays, which calls were paid for by the company to the latter’s damage and prejudice. Thus, requiring her to explain the said allegations againts her.

After submitting her written explanation to the charges imputed to her. The Respondent received a termination letter for alleged loss of trust and confidence on the ground of patently violating company rules and regulations with the unlawful use of company property, poor management style, misdemeanor and conduct unbecoming of an officer of the company.

Thus, respondent filed a case for illegal dismissal, nonpayment of 13th month pay, payment of damages and attorney’s fees against petitioner. The LA rendered a decision in favor of the respondent finding the dismissal of complainant to be illegal. Thus, the company is ordered to reinstate the respondent with full backwages including an award for damages. On appeal, the NLRC affirmed in toto the decision of the LA. On the petitioner’s MR, the CA modified the NLRC decision by ruling that the respondent is not opt to be reinstated. Rather, separation pay should be given to her.

ISSUE: Whether or not the respondent was illegally dismissed from employment by petitioner company.

HELD:

In an illegal dismissal case, the onus probandi rests on the employer to prove that its dismissal of an employee is for a valid cause. Petitioner dismissed respondent from employment because of alleged loss of trust and confidence due to tardiness and for using the company issued cellular phone outside the company premises and for her own personal use.

Loss of trust and confidence to be a valid ground for dismissal must be based on a willful breach of trust and founded on clearly established facts. A breach is willful if it is done intentionally, knowingly, and purposely, without justifiable excuse, as distinguished from an act done carelessly, thoughtlessly, heedlessly, or inadvertently. Otherwise stated, it must rest on substantial grounds and not on the employer's arbitrariness, whims, caprices, or suspicion; otherwise, the employee would eternally remain at the mercy of the employer. It should be genuine and not simulated; nor should it appear as a mere afterthought to justify an earlier action taken in bad faith or a subterfuge for causes that are improper, illegal, or unjustified. It has never been intended to afford an occasion for abuse because of its subjective nature. There must, therefore, be an actual breach of duty committed by the employee that must be established by substantial evidence.

In this case, petitioner failed to prove that respondent’s dismissal was for a valid cause. The penalty of dismissal is not commensurate to the infraction committed by the employee. Based on the findings of fact by the LA, which were affirmed by the NLRC and the CA, respondent made only three (3) personal calls using the company − issued cellular phone, and the total cost of the said calls was Nine Pesos (P9.00). Respondent herself duly recorded the said personal calls on the company logbook so that the same could be charged to her personal account, which disproves the imputation of her dishonesty.

In addition, the Court ruled that a lesser penalty should have been imposed by petitioner company to respondent considering that she has no history of previous infractions. The penalty of dismissal is not commensurate to the violation committed by her. While an employer enjoys a wide latitude of discretion in the promulgation of policies, rules, and regulations on work-related activities of the employees, those directives, however, must always be fair and reasonable, and the corresponding penalties, when prescribed, must always be commensurate to the offense involved and to the degree of the infraction.

Therefore, the petition is denied and the Resolution of the CA is affirmed.

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