Anvil Ensembles Garment, Petitioner, versus Court of Appeals; G.R. NO. 155037
On January 7, 1997, petitioner Anvil Ensembles Garment engaged the services of respondent Melecio Bonabon as its company driver on probationary basis. He received a monthly salary of ₱4,500.00 On March 25, 1997, however, the petitioner advised the respondent not to report for work anymore. The petitioner did not offer any explanation for its action. The respondent pleaded that he be allowed to keep his job as jobs were scarce but his plea went unheeded. Consequently, on September 3, 1997, he filed a Complaint for Illegal Dismissal against the petitioner. The case was docketed as NLRC Case No. RAB-IV-9-9316-97-RI.
In lieu of a position paper, the petitioner submitted to the Labor Arbiter a joint affidavit of its employees, namely, Sally Duquila and Marivic Santos. In the said affidavit, Duquila and Santos averred that sometime in February 1997, the respondent and a certain Sarrah Pagaduan were instructed to pick up a cutting machine from Le Trish Enterprise to be brought or delivered to the petitioner’s premises. Due allegedly to the respondent’s negligence in handling it, the cutting machine was extensively damaged. As a result, the petitioner incurred an expense of ₱8,000.00 for the repair thereof. The respondent was allegedly dismissed for the said negligence.
In the Decision dated July 31, 1998, the Labor Arbiter rendered judgment declaring the petitioner guilty of illegal dismissal. The Labor Arbiter ruled that the petitioner miserably failed to substantiate its charge that the respondent was negligent in the handling of the cutting machine resulting in its destruction. Moreover, the Labor Arbiter found that the respondent was not afforded procedural due process when his employment was terminated by the petitioner.
The petitioner filed its appeal with the NLRC. In the Resolution dated November 23, 1999, the NLRC affirmed in toto the decision of the Labor Arbiter. The petitioner sought the reconsideration thereof but its motion was denied by the NLRC.
Thereafter, the petitioner elevated the case to the CA by way of a petition for certiorari alleging grave abuse of discretion on the part of the NLRC when it affirmed the Labor Arbiter’s decision finding the petitioner guilty of unlawfully terminating the respondent’s employment. In the Decision dated January 18, 2002, the appellate court dismissed the petition for certiorari as it applied the general rule that factual findings of the NLRC, particularly when they coincide with that of the Labor Arbiter, are accorded respect. Both the NLRC and Labor Arbiter found no substantial evidence demonstrating that the petitioner had a valid and just cause to effect the respondent’s dismissal. The petitioner’s evidence consisting of the joint affidavit of its employees did not give the details of the respondent’s acts or omissions allegedly constituting negligence. Further, the respondent was not afforded procedural due process since the petitioner did not give him any notice, whether written or oral, to apprise him of the acts or omission for which he was dismissed.
Whether respondent Bonabon was illegally dismissed.
The petitioner insists that it had discharged its onus of proving that there was a valid ground for the respondent’s dismissal maintaining that the joint affidavit executed by its employees constituted substantial evidence.
As unanimously found by the Labor Arbiter, NLRC and CA, the petitioner has miserably failed to substantiate its claim that the respondent was guilty of negligence. The sole evidence proffered by the petitioner to show the respondent’s alleged negligence was the joint affidavit of its employees Sally Duquila and Marivic Santos.
A careful perusal of this affidavit shows that, except for the bare allegation that the respondent was dismissed on March 22, 1997 “for the act of negligence,” it failed to give the details or particulars of the acts or omission of the respondent that constituted negligence.
Moreover, under the Labor Code, to be a valid ground for dismissal, the negligence must be gross and habitual.
Gross negligence has been defined as the want or absence of even slight care or diligence as to amount to a reckless disregard of the safety of the person or property. It evinces a thoughtless disregard of consequences without exerting any effort to avoid them. Put differently, gross negligence is 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. In this case, contrary to its claim, the petitioner utterly failed to show that the respondent committed gross negligence as to warrant his dismissal.
While the respondent is only a probationary employee and does not enjoy permanent status, nonetheless, he is entitled to constitutional protection of security of tenure. His employment may only be terminated for a valid and just cause or if he fails to qualify as a regular employee in accordance with the reasonable standards made known to him by the employer at the time of engagement and after due process. Since neither circumstance attended the petitioner’s termination of the respondent’s employment, the appellate court correctly affirmed the decision of the NLRC finding the petitioner guilty of illegal dismissal.