Just causes refer to “those instances enumerated under Article 297 [Termination by Employer] of the Labor Code, as amended. These are causes directly attributable to the fault or negligence of the employee.” (Section 4 [b], Rule I-A, Ibid.)

The grounds for just causes are provided in the Labor Code, viz:

Article 296 [282]. Termination by Employer

An employer may terminate an employment for any of the following causes:

(a) Serious misconduct or willful disobedience by the employee of the lawful orders of his employer or representative in connection with his work;

(b) Gross and habitual neglect by the employee of his duties;

(c) Fraud or willful breach by the employee of the trust reposed in him by his employer or duly authorized representative;

(d) Commission of a crime or offense by the employee against the person of his employer or any immediate member of his family or his duly authorized representative; and

(e) Other causes analogous to the foregoing.

At this juncture, it is important to note that the Supreme Court repeatedly instructs employers to temper with compassion and understanding their right to terminate an employee for just cause, viz:

“The Court is wont to reiterate that while an employer has its own interest to protect, and pursuant thereto, it may terminate [an] employee for a just cause, such prerogative to dismiss or lay-off an employee must be exercised without abuse of discretion. Its implementation should be tempered with compassion and understanding. The employer should bear in mind that, in the execution of the said prerogative, what is at stake is not only the employee’s position, but his very livelihood. The Constitution does not condone wrongdoing by the employee; nevertheless, it urges moderation of the sanction that may be applied to him. Where a penalty less punitive would suffice, whatever missteps may have been committed by the worker ought not be visited with a consequence so severe as dismissal from employment. Indeed, the consistent rule is that if doubts exist between the evidence presented by the employer and the employee, the scales of justice must be tilted in favor of the latter. The employer must affirmatively show rationally adequate evidence that the dismissal was for justifiable cause.” (Coca-Cola Export Corporation v. Gacayan, G.R. No. 149433, 15 December 2010)

Accordingly, the employer is held liable for illegal dismissal where the penalty of termination is too harsh or not commensurate to an employee’s offense – particularly if they are minor violations.