No willful intent

Published by rudy Date posted on January 21, 2009

Not every violation of company rules and regulations may be a valid cause for dismissal. This is illustrated in this case of Mia.

Mia was hired as one of the service crew of a fast food chain on November 15, 1993. As part of her orientation she was provided with a copy of the Crew Employee Handbook setting the guidelines on meal policy specifically that which may constitute misconduct resulting in summary dismissal by consuming any food without authority or payment including eating from breaks of other crew or food offered by friends or family while on duty, sampling completed/uncompleted products during operations while on duty.

After almost two years of service punctuated by 31 commendations for jobs well done and good performances on numerous occasions, but also marred by infractions of company rules like failing to report for work or being late and incurring cash shortages, Mia was seen by a co-employee eating inside the crew room while on duty for which she was suspended for 5 days.

Explaining her questioned act in writing, Mia acknowledged having eaten a piece of fried chicken because she was hungry and her stomach was aching badly. She said she knew said act was wrong but it was only for that day since she wasn’t able to take her medicine.

Thereafter, the management sent a notice to Mia to show cause why no disciplinary action should be meted against her. Replying, Mia denied having violated the meal policy despite her above mentioned written admission. After conducting what it claimed to be a “thorough investigation” the company found Mia guilty of flouting company regulations due to her admission and immediately terminated her services.

Thus Mia lodged a complaint against the company before the NLRC. After the submission of position papers, the Labor Arbiter (LA) ruled in favor of Mia and held that while she violated the company’s meal policy, dismissal was too harsh a penalty and suspension without pay was already sufficient. So the LA found her dismissal illegal and ordered the company to pay her full back wages and separation pay instead of still decreeing reinstatement. This was affirmed by the NLRC on appeal.

The company still questioned these rulings and insisted that dismissal was not harsh by citing for the first time Mia’s checkered employment record of absences, tardiness and shortages. Was the company correct?

No. Under Article 282 (a) of the Labor Code, willful disobedience to the employer’s lawful orders as a just cause for termination of employment needs the concurrence of at least two requisites: (1) the employee’s assailed conduct must have been willful or intentional, the willfulness being characterized by a wrongful perverse attitude; and (2) the order violated must be reasonable, lawful, made known to the employee and must pertain to the duties which the employee has been engaged to discharge.

With respect to the serious misconduct, it is not sufficient that the act or conduct complained of must have violated some established rules or policies. It must have been performed with wrongful intent. The company failed to prove that Mia’s misconduct was induced by a perverse and wrongful intent. The company only anchored its claim on her knowledge of its meal policy. While it wields wide latitude of discretion in the promulgation of policies, rules and regulations on work related activities of its employees, these must however be fair and reasonable at all times, and the corresponding sanctions for violations thereof, commensurate to the degree of the infraction.

Given Mia’s claim that she was having stomach pains due to hunger, which is not implausible, the same should have been properly taken into account in the imposition of the penalty for violation of the meal policy. Her suspension for 5 days sufficed. With that penalty the necessity of cautioning other employees who may be wont to violate the same policy was not compromised.

Past misconduct shown by the employment record of previous offenses may be used as valid justification for dismissal from work only if they are related to, or have a bearing on the subsequent infraction which is the basis for the termination of employment. No such bearing however exists between such previous infractions with Mia’s meal policy violation. Parenthetically, Mia’s employment record also reflects her fairly outstanding work ethic and performance which is punctuated by at least 31 counts of commendations from the management no less.

Hence Mia should be paid full back-wages, inclusive of allowance and other benefits from the time of her dismissal up to finality of the decision, and separation pay in lieu of reinstatement computed from the time the company engaged her services up to finality of decision (McDonald’s etc. vs. Alba, G.R. 156382, December 18, 2008).

Note: Books containing compilation of my articles on Labor Law and Criminal Law (Vols. I and II) are now available. Call tel. 7249445.–Jose C. Sison, Philippine Star

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