SC: Defective med certificate CANNOT excuse absenteeism

For an employee's dismissal to be valid, (a) the dismissal must be for a valid cause and (b) the employee must be afforded due process.

This 2017 case of Japos v. FARM COOP explains the legal force and effect of an incomplete medical certificate in an employee's attempt to save himself from dismissal due to absenteeism. In a nutshell, the employee involved wanted to exculpate himself from termination from employment by showing a defective medical certificate.

In the case of Japos v. FARM COOP (G.R. No. 208000. July 26, 2017), records indubitably showed that fired employee Japos incurred several absences without authority or permission from his immediate supervisor even before he was terminated from service in violation of FARMCoop's policy. Records likewise showed that FARMCoop was quite lenient and considerate to Japos as he was not penalized for his previous unauthorized absences despite its policy providing for the suspension and dismissal of its employee in case of infraction thereto.

In fact, before he was terminated and despite his unauthorized absences he was only served with written warnings instead of immediate suspension. FARMCoop's policy further provides that if an employee incurs six (6) or more absences without permission within one (1) employment year, the employee could be validly dismissed from employment. In the year 2005, and prior to his dismissal, he already incurred three (3) unauthorized absences where he was served with three (3) written warnings with a warning that should he incur further unauthorized absences, the same would be dealt with seriously. Nonetheless, despite said warning, he was again absent for more than six (6) consecutive days from June 22, 2005 until he reported back to work on July 5, 2005 allegedly for being sick with influenza without any medical certificate to substantiate the same. It was only on July 7, 2005 when he submitted a medical certificate dated on even date certifying that he was examined and found to have acute respiratory tract infection.

It should be emphasized however, that the said medical certificate did not indicate the period within which he was examined by the physician and the period he was to rest due to his illness. It fails to refer to the specific period of his absences. It should likewise be emphasized that in the absence of evidence indicating that he was indeed sick before the date stated in the medical certificate, his alleged sickness or illness ought not be considered as an excuse for his excessive absences without leave. In the case of Filflex Industrial & Manufacturing Corp. vs. NLRC, the Supreme Court ruled that if the medical certificate fails to refer to the specific period of the employee's absence, then such absences are not supported by competent proof and hence, unjustified.Corollarily, under Article 282(b) of the Labor Code, gross and habitual neglect of duty by the employee of his duties is a just cause for the termination of the latter's employment. Settled is the rule that an employee's habitual absenteeism without leave, which violated company rules and regulation, is sufficient to justify termination from the service. In the case of R.B. Michael Press vs. Galit, it was ruled that habitual tardiness and/or absenteeism is a form of neglect of duty as the same exhibit the employee's deportment towards work and is therefore inimical to the general productivity and business of the employer. This is especially true when the tardiness and/or absenteeism occurred frequently and repeatedly within an extensive period of time. In the instant case, Japos failed to refute and controvert the fact of his habitual absenteeism. Instead, he admitted his absences though he tried to justify the same by belatedly submitting a medical certificate. Unfortunately, said medical certificate did not help his case.

Moreover, it should be noted that Japos' previous infractions, past and present absences considered, can be used collectively by petitioner as a ground for his dismissal. As it has been held, "[P]revious infractions may be used as justification for an employee's dismissal from work in connection with a subsequent similar offense." (G.R. No. 117418. January 24, 1996)

Furthermore, in the case of Valiao vs. Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court ratiocinated that:
Petitioner's repeated acts of absences without leave and his frequent tardiness reflect his indifferent attitude to and lack of motivation in his work. More importantly, his repeated and habitual infractions, committed despite several warnings, constitute gross misconduct unexpected from an employee of petitioner's stature. This Court has held that habitual absenteeism without leave constitute gross negligence and is sufficient to justify termination of an employee.
Japos, in fact, went up to the Supreme Court to question the decision of the Court of Appeals finding him guilty of absenteeism and finding his medical certificate to be wanting of important details. However, the High Court ruled against him and affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals in toto.

The Supreme Court agreed with the CA's pronouncement that Dr. Cruz's July 7, 2005 Medical Certificate did not constitute reliable proof of petitioner's claimed illness during the period June 22-28, 2005.

The certificate did not indicate the period during which petitioner was taken ill. It did not show when he consulted with and was diagnosed by Dr. Cruz. Moreover, it did not specify when and how petitioner underwent treatment, and for how long. Without these relevant pieces of information, it could not be reliably concluded that indeed, petitioner was taken ill on June 22- 28, 2005.

All that can be assumed from a reading of the document was that on July 7, 2005, Dr. Cruz issued a certification that she treated petitioner for a respiratory tract infection. She might have done so in 1995, or maybe even earlier, but not necessarily on June 22-28, 2005. The document was open to interpretation in every manner, in which case the Court could not be sufficiently convinced that petitioner became ill and was treated specifically on June 22-28, 2005.