G.R. No. 177937 : January 19, 2011
ROBINSONS GALLERIA/ROBINSONS SUPERMARKET CORPORATION and/or JESS MANUEL, Petitioners, v. IRENE R. RANCHEZ, Respondent.
Before the Court is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the Decision1cralaw dated August 29, 2006 and the Resolution2cralaw dated May 16, 2007 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 91631.
The facts of the case are as follows.
Respondent was a probationary employee of petitioner Robinsons Galleria/Robinsons Supermarket Corporation (petitioner Supermarket) for a period of
five (5) months, or from October 15, 1997 until March 14, 1998.3cralaw She underwent six (6) weeks of training as a
cashier before she was hired as such on October 15, 1997.4cralawredlaw
Two weeks after she was hired, or on October 30, 1997, respondent reported to her supervisor the loss of cash amounting to Twenty Thousand Two
Hundred Ninety-Nine Pesos (
P 20,299.00) which she had placed inside the company locker. Petitioner Jess Manuel (petitioner Manuel), the Operations Manager of petitioner
Supermarket, ordered that respondent be strip-searched by the company guards. However, the search on her and her personal belongings yielded
Respondent acknowledged her responsibility and requested that she be allowed to settle and pay the lost amount. However, petitioner Manuel did not
heed her request and instead reported the matter to the police. Petitioner Manuel likewise requested the Quezon City Prosecutor's Office for an
On November 5, 1997, an information for Qualified Theft was filed with the Quezon City Regional Trial Court. Respondent was constrained to spend
two weeks in jail for failure to immediately post bail in the amount of Forty Thousand Pesos (
On November 25, 1997, respondent filed a complaint for illegal dismissal and damages.8cralawredlaw
On March 12, 1998, petitioners sent to respondent by mail a notice of termination and/or notice of expiration of probationary employment dated
March 9, 1998.9cralawredlaw
On August 10, 1998, the Labor Arbiter rendered a decision,10cralaw the fallo of which reads: chanrob1esvirtwallawlibrary
CONFORMABLY WITH THE FOREGOING, judgment is hereby rendered dismissing the claim of illegal dismissal for lack of merit.
Respondents are ordered to accept complainant to her former or equivalent work without prejudice to any action they may take in the premises in
connection with the missing money of
In dismissing the complaint for illegal dismissal, the Labor Arbiter ratiocinated that at the time respondent filed the complaint for illegal
dismissal, she was not yet dismissed by petitioners. When she was strip- searched by the security personnel of petitioner Supermarket, the guards
were merely conducting an investigation. The subsequent referral of the loss to the police authorities might be considered routine. Respondent's
non-reporting for work after her release from detention could be taken against her in the investigation that petitioner supermarket would conduct.12cralawredlaw
On appeal, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) reversed the decision of the Labor Arbiter in a decision13cralaw dated October 20, 2003. The dispositive portion of the decision reads: chanrob1esvirtwallawlibrary
WHEREFORE, the appealed decision is SET ASIDE. The respondents are hereby ordered to immediately reinstate complainant to her former or equivalent
position without loss of seniority rights and privileges and to pay her full backwages computed from the time she was constructively dismissed on
October 30, 1997 up to the time she is actually reinstated.
In reversing the decision of the Labor Arbiter, the NLRC ruled that respondent was denied due process by petitioners. Strip-searching respondent
and sending her to jail for two weeks certainly amounted to constructive dismissal because continued employment had been rendered impossible,
unreasonable, and unlikely. The wedge that had been driven between the parties was impossible to ignore.15cralaw Although respondent was only a probationary employee, the subsequent lapse of her probationary contract of employment did not have the effect of
validly terminating her employment because constructive dismissal had already been effected earlier by petitioners.16cralawredlaw
Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied by the NLRC in a resolution17cralaw dated July 21,
Petitioners filed a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court before the CA. On August 29, 2006, the CA rendered a
Decision, the dispositive portion of which reads: chanrob1esvirtwallawlibrary
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the challenged Decision of the National Labor Relations Commission is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION in that should reinstatement be no longer possible in view of the strained relation between the parties, Petitioners
are ordered to pay Respondent separation pay equivalent to one (1) month pay in addition to backwages from the date of dismissal until the finality
of the assailed decision.
Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration. However, the CA denied the same in a Resolution dated May 16, 2007.
Hence, this petition.
Petitioners assail the reinstatement of respondent, highlighting the fact that she was a probationary employee and that her probationary contract
of employment lapsed on March 14, 1998. Thus, her reinstatement was rendered moot and academic. Furthermore, even if her probationary contract had
not yet expired, the offense that she committed would nonetheless militate against her regularization.19cralawredlaw
On the other hand, respondent insists that she was constructively dismissed by petitioner Supermarket when she was strip-searched, divested of her
dignity, and summarily thrown in jail. She could not have been expected to go back to work after being allowed to post bail because her continued
employment had been rendered impossible, unreasonable, and unlikely. She stresses that, at the time the money was discovered missing, it was not
with her but locked in the company locker. The company failed to provide its cashiers with strong locks and proper security in the work place.
Respondent argues that she was not caught in the act and even reported that the money was missing. She claims that she was denied due process.20cralawredlaw
The sole issue for resolution is whether respondent was illegally terminated from employment by petitioners.
The Ruling of the Court
We rule in the affirmative.
There is probationary employment when the employee upon his engagement is made to undergo a trial period during which the employer determines his
fitness to qualify for regular employment based on reasonable standards made known to him at the time of engagement.21cralawredlaw
A probationary employee, like a regular employee, enjoys security of tenure.22cralaw However, in cases of probationary
employment, aside from just or authorized causes of termination, an additional ground is provided under Article 281 of the Labor Code, i. e., the probationary employee may also be terminated for failure to qualify as a regular employee in accordance with reasonable standards
made known by the employer to the employee at the time of the engagement. Thus, the services of an employee who has been engaged on probationary
basis may be terminated for any of the following: (1) a just or (2) an authorized cause; and (3) when he fails to qualify as a regular employee in
accordance with reasonable standards prescribed by the employer.23cralawredlaw
Article 277(b) of the Labor Code mandates that subject to the constitutional right of workers to security of tenure and their right to be protected
against dismissal, except for just and authorized cause and without prejudice to the requirement of notice under Article 283 of the same Code, the
employer shall furnish the worker, whose employment is sought to be terminated, a written notice containing a statement of the causes of
termination, and shall afford the latter ample opportunity to be heard and to defend himself with the assistance of a representative if he so
desires, in accordance with company rules and regulations pursuant to the guidelines set by the Department of Labor and Employment.
In the instant case, based on the facts on record, petitioners failed to accord respondent substantive and procedural due process. The haphazard
manner in the investigation of the missing cash, which was left to the determination of the police authorities and the Prosecutor's Office, left
respondent with no choice but to cry foul. Administrative investigation was not conducted by petitioner Supermarket. On the same day that the
missing money was reported by respondent to her immediate superior, the company already pre-judged her guilt without proper investigation, and
instantly reported her to the police as the suspected thief, which resulted in her languishing in jail for two weeks.
As correctly pointed out by the NLRC, the due process requirements under the Labor Code are mandatory and may not be supplanted by police
investigation or court proceedings. The criminal aspect of the case is considered independent of the administrative aspect. Thus, employers should
not rely solely on the findings of the Prosecutor's Office. They are mandated to conduct their own separate investigation, and to accord the
employee every opportunity to defend himself. Furthermore, respondent was not represented by counsel when she was strip-searched inside the company
premises or during the police investigation, and in the preliminary investigation before the Prosecutor's Office.
Respondent was constructively dismissed by petitioner Supermarket effective October 30, 1997. It was unreasonable for petitioners to charge her
with abandonment for not reporting for work upon her release in jail. It would be the height of callousness to expect her to return to work after
suffering in jail for two weeks. Work had been rendered unreasonable, unlikely, and definitely impossible, considering the treatment that was
accorded respondent by petitioners.
As to respondent's monetary claims, Article 279 of the Labor Code provides that an employee who is unjustly dismissed from work shall be entitled
to reinstatement without loss of seniority rights and other privileges, to full backwages, inclusive of allowances, and to other benefits or their
monetary equivalent computed from the time his compensation was withheld from him up to the time of his actual reinstatement. However, due to the
strained relations of the parties, the payment of separation pay has been considered an acceptable alternative to reinstatement, when the latter
option is no longer desirable or viable. On the one hand, such payment liberates the employee from what could be a highly oppressive work
environment. On the other, the payment releases the employer from the grossly unpalatable obligation of maintaining in its employ a worker it could
no longer trust.24cralawredlaw
Thus, as an illegally or constructively dismissed employee, respondent is entitled to: (1) either reinstatement, if viable, or separation pay, if
reinstatement is no longer viable; and (2) backwages. These two reliefs are separate and distinct from each other and are awarded conjunctively.25cralawredlaw
In this case, since respondent was a probationary employee at the time she was constructively dismissed by petitioners, she is entitled to
separation pay and backwages. Reinstatement of respondent is no longer viable considering the circumstances.
However, the backwages that should be awarded to respondent shall be reckoned from the time of her constructive dismissal until the date of the
termination of her employment, i.e., from October 30, 1997 to March 14, 1998. The computation should not cover the entire period from the
time her compensation was withheld up to the time of her actual reinstatement. This is because respondent was a probationary employee, and the
lapse of her probationary employment without her appointment as a regular employee of petitioner Supermarket effectively severed the
employer-employee relationship between the parties.
In all cases involving employees engaged on probationary basis, the employer shall make known to its employees the standards under which they will
qualify as regular employees at the time of their engagement. Where no standards are made known to an employee at the time, he shall be deemed a
regular employee,26cralaw unless the job is self-descriptive, like maid, cook, driver, or messenger. However, the
constitutional policy of providing full protection to labor is not intended to oppress or destroy management.27cralaw Naturally, petitioner Supermarket cannot be expected to retain respondent as a regular employee considering that she lost
P 20,299.00 while acting as a cashier during the probationary period. The rules on probationary employment should not be used to exculpate a
probationary employee who acts in a manner contrary to basic knowledge and common sense, in regard to which, there is no need to spell out a policy
or standard to be met.28cralawredlaw
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the petition is DENIED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 91631 is hereby AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that petitioners are hereby ordered to pay respondent Irene R. Ranchez separation
pay equivalent to one (1) month pay and backwages from October 30, 1997 to March 14, 1998.
Costs against petitioners.
ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA
CARPIO, J., Chairperson, LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,* ABAD, and MENDOZA, JJ.