Case Digest: Valenzuela v. Caltex Philippines

G.R. Nos. 169965-66: December 15, 2010

CARLOS V. VALENZUELA,Petitioner, v. CALTEX PHILIPPINES, INC., Respondent.

VILLARAMA, JR., J.:

FACTS:


Petitioner was hired by respondent Caltex Philippines, Inc. sometime in March 1965 as Laborer and assigned in the Lube Oil Section of its Pandacan Terminal in Manila. After three years, he was designated as Machine Operator A.

After twenty-two (22) years at the Manila Aviation Service, petitioner was moved to respondents Lapu-Lapu Terminal in Lapu-Lapu City. Petitioner was initially designated as Gauger but he also handled Bulk Receiving, Tank Truck Loading and Bunkering. In 1996, the Warehouseman retired and the functions of the warehouseman were given to petitioner. As warehouseman, petitioners duties included, among others, the maintenance of stock cards for storehouse materials and supplies, the conduct of physical inventory of the companys merchandise stocks and monitoring the movement of said stocks.

A spot operational audit was conducted on the Lapu-Lapu City District Office, and several irregularities in the handling of respondents merchandise were discovered. A net inventory shortage amounting to P823,100.49 was discovered.

Petitioner was required to explain within forty-eight (48) hours such shortage and the other irregularities discovered during the spot audit. He was thereafter preventively suspended to prevent further losses and/or possible tampering of the documents and other evidence.

After the administrative investigation was conducted with two hearings held, respondent found cause to terminate petitioners employment. Specifically, petitioner liable for (1) Gross and Habitual neglect of duties and responsibilities as warehouse clerk, (2) Not performing month-end inventory duties, (3) Not investigating the shortages of stocks under his custody and (4) Commission of Fraud.

Aggrieved, petitioner filed a complaint for illegal dismissal. He also claimed salary differentials representing his pay increases pursuant to the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the parties, which were not given to him by respondent.

The Labor Arbiter dismissed the claim for illegal dismissal for lack of merit and the other monetary claims are referred to the grievance machinery and/or voluntary arbitrator as provided under the CBA.

On appeal, the NLRC set aside the decision of the Labor Arbiter and declared that petitioner was illegally dismissed.

The CA, reinstated the Labor Arbiters decision, thus reversing the NLRC ruling.

ISSUE: Whether or not petitioner was illegally dismissed.

HELD: Court of Appeals decision is sustained.

LABOR LAW

The findings of the Labor Arbiter are supported by more than substantial evidence and even petitioners admissions during the administrative hearings. As the CA correctly held,

Evidence overwhelmingly shows that petitioner Valenzuela was indeed guilty of habitual and gross neglect of his duties. It was not the first time that there occurred a shortage of the merchandise stocks but apparently petitioner Valenzuela did nothing about it and, instead, manipulated documents and records, i.e., stock cards, to create the illusion that all merchandise stocks were accounted for, when in fact a lot of these merchandise were already missing from petitioner Companys Lapu-Lapu terminal.

Under Article 282 of the Labor Code, as amended, gross and habitual neglect by the employee of his duties is a sufficient and legal ground to terminate employment. Jurisprudence provides that serious misconduct and habitual neglect of duties are among the just causes for terminating an employee. Gross negligence connotes want of care in the performance of ones duties. Habitual neglect implies repeated failure to perform ones duties for a period of time, depending upon the circumstances. Valiao v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 146621, July 30, 2004

Further, Article 282 of the Labor Code, as amended, also provides fraud or willful breach by employee of the trust reposed in him by his employer as a just cause for termination. It is always a serious issue for the employer when an employee performs acts which diminish or break the trust and confidence reposed in him. The Labor Code, as amended, although sympathetic to the working class, is aware of this scenario and in pursuit of fairness, included fraud or willful breach of trust as a just cause for termination of employment.

LABOR LAW

Sections 8 and 9 of Rule XXIII, Implementing Book V of the Omnibus Rules Implementing the Labor Code provides:
SEC. 8. Preventive suspension. The employer may place the worker concerned under preventive suspension if his continued employment poses a serious and imminent threat to the life or property of the employer or of his co-workers.
SEC. 9. Period of suspension. No preventive suspension shall last longer than thirty (30) days. The employer shall thereafter reinstate the worker in his former or in a substantially equivalent position or the employer may extend the period of suspension provided that during the period of extension, he pays the wages and other benefits due to the worker. In such case, the worker shall not be bound to reimburse the amount paid to him during the extension if the employer decides, after completion of the hearing, to dismiss the worker.
In this case, petitioner was preventively suspended from November 26, 1999 to December 25, 1999. Respondents extended his preventive suspension for thirty days, from December 26, 1999 to January 24, 2000. After the conclusion of the administrative investigation, he was finally terminated on January 21, 2000. There is no showing that petitioner was paid his wages and benefits during the additional period of suspension. Clearly, petitioner is entitled to his salary and other benefits prior to his dismissal, from December 26, 1999 to January 21, 2000.

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