Thursday, January 20, 2011

Grounds for valid dismissal of employees in the private sector – just causes

Dismissing employees can be one of the more stressful, tricky and least wanted jobs a managerial employee faces, especially if and when not performed properly. You have to make sure that you are doing the right thing, in the right manner, regardless of the consequences. Oftentimes, mishandling of an administrative investigation and the expected imposition of dismissal result to the filing of a labor case for illegal dismissal, and claims for benefits and damages, by the aggrieved employee against the employer and the managers/supervisors concerned.

Not that the employer is helpless in this situation. On the contrary, in a case, the Supreme Court has reiterated that the right of an employer to regulate all aspects of employment is well settled. This right, aptly called management prerogative, gives employers the freedom to regulate, according to their discretion and best judgment, all aspects of employment, including work assignment, working methods, processes to be followed, working regulations, transfer of employees, work supervision, lay-off of workers and the discipline, dismissal and recall of workers. In general, management has the prerogative to discipline its employees and to impose appropriate penalties on erring workers pursuant to company rules and regulations.

In another case, the Supreme Court said that while it is true that compassion and human consideration should guide the disposition of cases involving termination of employment since it affects one's source or means of livelihood, it should not be overlooked that the benefits accorded to labor do not include compelling an employer to retain the services of an employee who has been shown to be a gross liability to the employer. The law in protecting the rights of the employees authorizes neither oppression nor self-destruction of the employer.

However, such dismissal must have been effected for a just cause according to law, and with due process properly observed.

The Labor Code provides for just causes of termination of employees, to wit: (a) serious misconduct or willful disobedience; (b) gross and habitual neglect; (c) fraud or willful breach of trust; (d) commission of a crime or offense; and (e) analogous cases. Philippine law and jurisprudence have defined said causes --

Serious misconduct refers to improper or wrong conduct, in connection with the employee’s work. It is the transgression of some established and definite rule of action, a forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, willful in character, and implies wrongful intent and not mere error of judgment. The misconduct to be serious must be of such grave and aggravated character and not merely trivial and unimportant.

Willful disobedience consists of (1) the employee’s assailed conduct must be willful or intentional, the willfulness characterized by a wrongful or perverse attitude; and (2) the order violated must have been reasonable, lawful, made known to the employee, and must pertain to the duties which he had been engaged or discharged.

Gross negligence is negligence characterized by want of even slight care, acting or omitting to act in a situation where there is a duty to act, not inadvertently but willfully and intentionally with a conscious indifference to consequences insofar as other persons may be affected.

Fraud is any act, omission, or concealment which involves a breach of legal duty, trust, or confidence justly reposed and is injurious to another.

Breach of trust refers to the violation by the employee of the trust and confidence reposed in him by his employer or duly authorized representative. It is important that the employee concerned holds a position of trust and confidence or is routinely charged with the care and custody of the employer’s money or property. Moreover, the breach must be related to the performance of the employee’s function.

While commission of a crime or offense against the person of his employer or any immediate member of his family is self-explanatory, analogous causes run the gamut of instances arising from the voluntary and/or willful acts of the employee, such as unpleasant deportment and unreasonable behavior, gross inefficiency, conflict of interest, among others.

Compliance with procedural due process requires that the employer provide the erring employee with a formal (written) notice of the specific charges against him. He must be required to answer said charges also in writing. And that after due investigation and deliberation, the employer must furnish him with a formal (written) notice of termination. This process is mandatory, and failure to comply with the requirements taints the dismissal with illegality.

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