September 1998 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
[G.R. No. 118647. September 23, 1999.]
CONSOLIDATED FOOD CORPORATION/PRESIDENT JOHN GOKONGWEI, GEN. MGR. VICTORIO FADRILAN, JR., and UNIT MGR. JAIME S. ABALOS, Petitioners, v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION AND WILFREDO M. BARON, Respondents.
Petitioner Consolidated Food Corporation (CFC) is a domestic corporation engaged in the sale of food products, e.g., Presto Ice Cream, with petitioner John Gokongwei as its President, Victorio V. Fadrilan Jr. as General Manager, and Jaime S. Abalos as Unit Manager for Northern Luzon. Private respondent Wilfredo M. Baron was a Bonded Merchandiser at CFC since November 1985 and received commendations for being a consistent member of the "millionaires group," a title given to provincial salesmen who filled sales quotas in their assigned areas. In March and December 1989, and February and April 1990, he was given commendations by Gen. Mgr. Victorio V. Fadrilan Jr. and Unit Mgr. Jaime S. Abalos for his good performance in sales. 1 Thereafter, he was assigned as Acting Section Manager for Northern Luzon (NL)-2 Area covering Baguio City, La Trinidad and Benguet. He was tasked, among others, to deliver for sale CFC Presto Ice Cream Products to stores and outlets in Baguio City, make inventories thereof, replace or retrieve bad orders or damaged ice cream stocks, and to handle funds in relation to his functions. He received a basic salary of P3,300.00 per month plus commissions averaging monthly at P30,000.00 or one percent (1%) of his sales. 2
On 16 July 1990 a killer earthquake hit Baguio City causing severe damage in the area. Power lines were cut off and the roads to and from the city became impassable. Hence, the Presto ice cream products in the possession of customers and sales outlets in Baguio were damaged and became bad orders.
On 1 August 1990 Unit Mgr. Abalos issued an Action Plan for NL-2 Area approved by Gen. Mgr. Fadrilan Jr. which provided among others the cut-off audit of Sec. Mgr. Wilfredo M. Baron to determine accountabilities that should be liquidated on account of non-sales operations due to fortuitous event, and a plan for the reorganization of the Northern Luzon Sections (NL-1, 3 and 4) to create only one (1) section from the existing outlets. It was proposed that Baron start with at least fifty (50) freezers to immediately service and develop potential outlets in the assigned area. 3cralawnad
On 15 August 1990 the Field Audit Group of CFC conducted an audit on the accountabilities of Baron that reflected a shortage of P1,985.12 in the cash purchase fund and expense allowance fund. On 8 October 1990 Unit Mgr. Abalos requested a field audit of the area to further evaluate private respondent’s exposure, particularly on sales account, freezer and bad orders stocks. 4
On 15 October 1990 Unit Mgr. Abalos issued a Memorandum directing Baron to temporarily stop routing in his assigned areas until such time that the complete audit of the customers’ bad orders stocks within the area had been finished. Thereafter, Unit Mgr. Abalos issued another memorandum ordering the turnover of accountabilities of Baron to Branch Mgr. Josedario Calura, who should take over the route operation of Baguio City effective 15 October 1990 as private respondent’s presence would be required in the audit being conducted on bad orders stocks caused by the earthquake.
On 1 December 1990 the Field Audit Group submitted its report declaring that the quantity of bad orders stocks per Bad Orders Summary Sheets (BOSS) prepared by Baron was higher than the total quantity of bad orders stocks per confirmed customers’ listings. Some customers claimed through written statements that Baron did not totally dispose of their bad orders stocks but instead loaded some in his truck. They could not, however, recall the quantity of bad orders stocks taken by private Respondent. These findings tended to indicate that Baron’s funds presented for audit as of 15 August 1990 could have been manipulated to replace good stocks and/or cash with customers’ bad orders stocks. The following discrepancies were noted:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
a. Probable BO stocks returned to warehouse were in excess of truck BO stocks.
Cases Pieces Amount
BO initially presented per audit as
of August 15, 1990 — covered by BOSS
Nos. 24379-80 dated August 1, 1990 642 841 87,202.27
Should be good stocks as of August 15,
1990 that would have turned B.O. and
returned to warehouse (See Schedule II) 216 111 22,461.71
—— —— ————
Excess BO returned to warehouse 426 730 64,740.56
==== ==== ========
b. The excess B.O. presented above could have been used to partially cover cash collections which he did not present as of August 15, 1990.chanrobles law library : red
Upon examination of the sales transactions reflected in the Daily Sales Report (DSR) and other pertinent documents from 11-16 July 1990, it was further discovered that Baron had no sales operations from 16 July 1990 to 15 August 1990 per DSR. The following were further noted:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
a. DSR (Daily Sales Report) was not accomplished prior to 9 July 1990. Had there been a cash balance at that time the amount of P33,908.30 which was not presented as of audit date could have been more.
b. Cash balance of Sec. Mgr. Baron was nil as of the cut-off audit on 15 August 1990.
c. Sec. Mgr. Baron did not make any remittance on 12 July 1990 (reporting day) though he had sales collection of P73,725.30 on 9-12 July 1990. PSTA No. 4721 dated 12 July 1990 amounting to P82,873.00 intended to Sec. Mgr. Baron was not paid/withdrawn instead said PSTA was cancelled.
If No. 1 and 2 findings were to be considered in the result of the audit on 15 August 1990 (Memo 09-C66-90 dated 3 September 1990), it would apparently show an amount of P66,725.68 (represented by cash/truck stocks) covered up through customer’s BO. Sec. Mgr. Baron could have gained benefit from this thru illegitimate means. Details follow:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
15 August 1990 Should be
CPF Accountability 200,000.00 200,000.00
EAF Accountability 10,000.00 10,000.00
Accounted for as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
BO Stocks/Good Stocks 87,201.40 22,461.71
Unrefunded B.O. stocks 7,763.96 7,763.96
Unserved PSTA 46,607.65 46,607.65
Unserved DP 2,959.46 2,959.46
Unreplenished 3% discount 3,221.41 3,221.41
Sales account 47,364.50 47,364.50
Unreplaced promo items 2,373.00 2,373.00
Unreplenished expenses 10,323.50 10,323.50
Net Shortage P1,985.12 P66,725.68 5
Thus, on 15 January 1991 a memorandum signed by Unit Mgr. Abalos and approved by Gen. Mgr. Fadrilan Jr. was sent to Baron informing him of the discrepancies appearing in the audit of accountabilities and giving him opportunity to explain his side in writing. Meanwhile, his normal sales route was temporarily suspended until further notice but he was instructed to report daily to the head office in Pasig City. 6
On 28 January 1991 Unit Mgr. Abalos and Gen. Mgr. Fadrilan Jr. issued a memorandum requesting the Corporate Auditing Department to conduct a cut-off audit on Baron to determine the extent of his accountabilities which should be turned over to them pending result of the investigation of his case. On the same date, private respondent submitted his answer addressed to Gen. Mgr. Fadrilan Jr. explaining that the inventory of the bad orders stocks at the Trinidad Bakery was done in haste as he and his companions would all rush out of the building every time aftershocks were felt, and hesitantly return to resume the inventory-taking. He reasoned that the circumstances then obtaining should be taken into consideration before concluding that funds were manipulated to replace good stocks/cash with customers’ bad orders stocks, and that this was the first time that such a glaring error was ever committed by him.
On the alleged cash shortage of P33,908.30, Baron explained that on 14 July 1990 his total cash accountability per audit was P24,033.35 after remitting the amount of P81,087.05. The amount was intentionally not remitted because it was paid to Mr. Supermart to cover bad orders stocks thereby partially accounting for the difference between the BOSS and the customers’ listings. The shortage of P1,985.12 could be attributed to the unusual circumstances then prevailing and not due to manipulation of his accountability.chanrobles.com.ph : virtual law library
On 18 February 1991 petitioners issued a memorandum assigning Sec. Mgr. Edgardo Hemosura from Greater Manila Area (Pasig, Marikina, Mandaluyong, Cainta) to NL-2 Area covering Baguio City which was the area assigned to Baron.
On 13 April 1991 private respondent received a memorandum from petitioners stating among others that they had carefully evaluated his written explanation and noted that he failed to categorically explain how he came to have excess Truck Bad Orders Stocks (TBOS) amounting to P87,202.27 when the should-be good stocks as of 15 August 1990 were worth P22,461.71 only. Such TBOS were returned to the Dairy Products Division (DPD) Bad Orders Warehouse and for which Baron withdrew replacement good stocks worth P87,201.10 under DR No. 24632 dated 18 August 1990. Petitioners further noted that in Baron’s effort to explain the whereabouts of cash totalling P33,908.30 which he failed to show during the audit, he mentioned about the P24,033.35 allegedly paid to Mr. Supermart, and another amount of P5,000.00 again to Mr. Supermart as Anniversary Promotion. These payments were absolutely not authorized by the Company and constituted personal use of company funds for purposes other than those for which the same were intended. Baron also failed to explain why even the balance of P4,874.95 was not accounted for during the audit. Petitioners declared however that before any decision could be formalized, private respondent should submit his written explanation on the points indicated within a period of seven (7) days from receipt of the memorandum. He was also requested to explain why no additional action should be taken against him for his continued absence from 18 March to 13 April 1991.
On 18 April 1991 petitioners sent notice to private respondent requiring him to explain within ten (10) days why he should not be dismissed from the service for having been absent without leave (AWOL). On 29 April 1991 Baron sent a letter to petitioners stating that he was advised by his doctor not to report for work because he was sick and would have to take his medication until 15 May 1991.chanrobles law library
On 14 May 1991 private respondent Baron filed a complaint with the Labor Arbiter for constructive dismissal, non-payment of salaries, commissions, service incentive leave pay and allowances. 7 On 12 November 1993 the Labor Arbiter rendered a decision holding that private respondent was constructively dismissed due to the fact that he was subjected to audit after audit, uprooted from Baguio City which was his assigned area, floated and grounded in the head office in Pasig City thus depriving him of the opportunity to earn commissions. The Labor Arbiter also considered the audit reports as mere conjectures of the auditing team; that petitioners did not have a credible list of customers’ bad orders stocks which could be the basis of the accusation that Baron bloated his Bad Orders Summary Sheet; that there was no proof of the number of stocks prior to 1 August 1990 which he replaced with new ones that were released to him by the Dairy Products Division (DPD); that this could not be the basis of the alleged excess bad orders amounting to P64,740.56; and, that finally, Baron was able to fully explain the shortage on his expense allowance fund. 8 For this reason, CFC was ordered to reinstate Baron without loss of seniority of rights, pay his back wages in the amount of P116,545.00 and lost commissions in the amount of P230,418.93.
Petitioner appealed the decision of the Labor Arbiter. On 8 July 1994 the NLRC upheld CFC’s prerogative to investigate Baron and to reassign him to the main office, but considered his deprivation of salaries during the period as an indication of the Company’s intent to dismiss him. 9 It affirmed the Labor Arbiter’s finding that private respondent was constructively dismissed and further held that commissions should be included in the computation of the 13th month pay to be awarded to private Respondent. Petitioner moved for the reconsideration of the decision. The NLRC granted the motion but only to the extent that it excluded the commission in the computation of the 13th month pay. The declaration that private respondent was constructively dismissed hence should be reinstated and paid his back wages, lost commissions and 13th month pay was maintained.
Petitioners now contend that public respondent NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in holding that private respondent Baron was constructively dismissed simply because he was subjected to various audits concerning his sales activities. They argue that the audits conducted by the Company on its Baguio City operations were necessary because of the destruction caused by the earthquake and were done to protect the company’s interests considering Baron’s gross violations of company procedures and policies, and the shortages he incurred which he failed to satisfactorily explain. Moreover, the audits were part of standard operating procedure conducted to protect and maintain the integrity of its business and not to harass private Respondent.chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary:red
Petitioners further assert that Baron’s being required to temporarily report in the Company’s head office in Pasig City while a full audit was being conducted should not be taken to mean that he was being eased out of his employment since his presence was required to allow him to participate in the comprehensive audit of his sales activities in Baguio City.
Petitioners also contend that the Labor Arbiter’s finding that the audit on Baron’s accountabilities was a form of harassment has no factual or legal basis because other personnel of the Dairy Products Division were not subjected to similar accusations but in fact allowed to work under normal conditions. The case of Baron was different because he was a field salesman entrusted with cash funds which he was under obligation to account to the Company while other DPD personnel who worked in the main office were not assigned in the field and did not receive monetary advances to be accounted to the Company. In the event of discrepancies in the products released and the amount actually remitted to the Company, it was the salesmen, like Baron, who were directly accountable to the Company thereby necessitating the conduct of audit on him. 10
Petitioners argue that Baron was neither expressly nor constructively dismissed from his job but, as shown by his unjustified act of absenting himself without reason, left his job on his own volition. Baron remained in the employees’ payroll before he disappeared in March 1991. He was neither terminated nor was there any intention to terminate his employment as shown by his assignment in the Company head office during the audit. His being separated from the service was borne out of his decision to absent himself and file a complaint with the Labor Arbiter and not because of any act attributable to petitioners.chanrobles law library : red
We are compelled by the evidence on record to sustain petitioners and reverse the findings of both the NLRC and the Labor Arbiter. This Court has defined a valid exercise of management prerogative as one which covers hiring, work assignment, working methods, time, place and manner of work, tools to be used, processes to be followed, supervision of workers, working regulations, transfer of employees, work supervision, lay-off of workers and the discipline, dismissal and recall of workers. Except as provided for or limited by special laws, employers are free to regulate, according to their own discretion and judgment, all aspects of employment. 11 Re-assignments made by management pending investigation of irregularities allegedly committed by an employee fall within the ambit of management prerogative. The purpose of reassignments is no different from that of preventive suspension which management could validly impose as a disciplinary measure for the protection of the company’s property pending investigation of any alleged malfeasance or misfeasance committed by the employee. 12
In the instant case, the result of the initial audit on the accountabilities of private respondent Baron conducted on 15 August 1990 showed a net shortage of P1,985.12 in the Cash Purchase Fund (CPF) and Expense Allowance Fund (EAF) in his possession. A follow-up audit was conducted by the Company during which petitioners: (a) obtained confirmation from customers on the correctness of the quantity of damaged ice cream stocks which were disposed of as reflected in the Bad Orders Summary Sheets (BOSS) submitted by respondent Baron; (b) analyzed Baron’s daily sales reports and entries prior to and after the 16 July 1990 earthquake with regard to truck stocks and cash balances as of these dates; and, (c) compared results with the result of the audit conducted on 15 August 1990. 13 The result of the follow-up audit showed that the quantity of damaged stocks per summary of the report prepared by Baron was higher than the total quantity of damaged stocks per confirmed customers’ listings. Further, the quantity of damaged stocks he initially presented for audit on 15 August 1990, for which he had already acquired replacement stocks from the Company on 1 August 1990, was declared at P87,202.27. It appears from company records however that the quantity of damaged stocks as of 15 August 1990 was valued only at P22,461.71 showing an excess of bad orders stocks declared by Baron to the Company in the amount of P64,740.56.
The audit result also showed that Baron failed to account for his expense allowance fund in the amount of P33,908.30. Although Baron had given his written explanation, petitioners found it unsatisfactory and his defense inexcusable. While there may be no direct evidence to prove that Baron actually and deliberately committed fraud or misappropriation of Company funds, there was substantial proof of the existence of irregularities committed by him in the use of the funds. We have ruled that substantial proof, and not clear and convincing evidence or proof beyond reasonable doubt, is sufficient as basis for the imposition of any disciplinary action upon the employee. The standard of substantial evidence is satisfied where the employer has reasonable ground to believe that the employee is responsible for the misconduct and his participation therein renders him unworthy of the trust and confidence demanded by his position. 14chanroblesvirtual|awlibrary
We find that petitioners’ acts of conducting audits and investigation on the alleged irregularities committed by private respondent and in reassigning him to another place of work pending the results of the investigation were based on valid and legitimate grounds. As such, these acts of management cannot amount to constructive dismissal. It is worthy to note that petitioners gave Baron every opportunity to raise his defense and fully explain the discrepancies in the funds in his possession. In fact private respondent informed petitioners that he would be returning for work on 5 March 1991 after his sick leave. But instead of doing so, he filed a complaint for constructive dismissal before the Labor Arbiter.
By leaving his job without submitting the required final explanation on the alleged irregularities, private respondent deprived himself of the opportunity to face his accusers and prove his innocence of the charges hurled against him. In fact, the results of the final investigation conducted by the Company and presented during the proceedings before the Labor Arbiter affirmed the initial results of the audit concerning the existence of anomalies in the transactions of Baron as follows:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
(a) Sec. Mgr. Baron disposed of the bad orders stocks retrieved from the customers without the presence of the unit manager and representatives from the Audit and Quality Control Departments;
(b) the summary of BO stocks accomplished by Sec. Mgr. Baron per his Bad Orders Summary Sheet (BOSS) was overstated by P7,908.00 when compared against the customers’ listing of BO stocks signed by Sec. Mgr. Baron of P170,072.00 . . .;
(c) Sec. Mgr. Baron did not present the should-be cash balance on hand totalling P33,908.30 as of audit date; and,
(d) Sec. Mgr. Baron returned BO stocks to the DPD warehouse on 15 August 1990 totalling P87,201.40. However his should-be stock balance on 15 August 1990 amounted only to P22,461.71. With the pricing difference of P0.87, Sec. Mgr. Baron’s excess BO stocks amounted to P64,740.56 which could be the amount of BO stocks not disposed but retrieved from the customers and included in his truck BO stocks to make it appear that these were part of his Cash Purchase Fund (CPF) accountability. 15
The records show that during the audit and investigation Baron was reassigned to the head office of the Company in Pasig City without pay beginning 1 January 1991 to 15 March 1991 when he did not return to work anymore. He was required to report for work for the Company although his regular sales route in Baguio City was suspended. There is nothing in the records however that would show that petitioners placed private respondent under preventive suspension. Hence for services rendered arising from his new assignment from January 1991 to 15 March 1991 he should have been paid his salaries for the period as well as proportionate 13th month pay. Computed on the basis of his basic salary at P3,300.02 16 per month x 2.5 months, private respondent is entitled to receive unpaid salaries in the amount of P8,250.05. With regard to the 13th month pay based on the following computation:chanrobles virtualawlibrary chanrobles.com:chanrobles.com.ph
Basic pay (P3,300.02) = 275 x 2.5 = P687.50
private respondent is entitled to P687.50 as proportionate 13th month pay. The circumstances of this case clearly show that the petitioners had knowledge and allowed the withholding of salaries of private respondent starting 1 January 1991 up to the time he resigned from his employment. Therefore, they are held jointly and severally liable to pay private respondent the amounts indicated above in the total amount of P8,937.55. Further, private respondent was forced to litigate for the recovery of his wages, hence, he is entitled to an award of attorney’s fees of P1,000.00 which amount is reasonable in this case. 17
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Decision of respondent National Labor Relations Commission affirming the Labor Arbiter’s Decision is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. However, petitioners Consolidated Food Corporation (CFC), CFC President John Gokongwei, Gen. Mgr. Victorio Fadrilan, Jr., and Unit Mgr. Jaime Abalos are ordered jointly and severally to pay private respondent Wilfredo M. Baron unpaid salaries in the amount of P8,250.05, proportionate 13th month pay in the amount of P687.50 plus attorney’s fees of P1,000.00.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
Mendoza, Quisumbing and Buena, JJ., concur.
1. Rollo, p. 170.
2. Id., p. 169.
3. Records, p. 165.
4. Id., p. 168.
5. Id., pp. 182-184.
6. Id., p. 187.
7. Id., p. 1.
8. Id., pp. 249-275.chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
9. Id., p. 304.
10. Rollo, pp. 2-25.
11. Manila Electric Company v. NLRC, G.R. No. 114129, 24 October 1996, 263 SCRA 538.
12. Samillano v. NLRC, G.R. No. 117582, 23 December, 265 SCRA 795; Atlas Fertilizer Corporation v. NLRC, G.R. No. 120030, 17 June 1997, 273 SCRA 555.
13. Records, p. 182.
14. Falguera v. Linsangan, G.R. No. 114848, 14 December 1995, 251 SCRA 376.
15. Records, p. 139.
16. Id., p. 323.
17. Rasonable v. NLRC, G.R. No. 117195, 20 February 1996, 253 SCRA 815.