Labor law is founded on social justice.
What is social justice in Labor Law?
In the context of labor and employment, social justice ensures that “those who have less in life must have more in law.” (Justice Velasco, Jr., Separate and Dissenting Opinion in Perez v. Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Company, G.R. No. 152048, 07 April 2009,)
Between labor and capital, the employees are usually at an economic disadvantage against the employer who wields a powerful right – management prerogative. Consequently, employees end up having no other option but to comply with the employer’s instructions, which may or may not be valid. Thus, the aim of social justice is to give more rights and protection to the employees through labor laws, rules, and regulations.
Thus, when it comes to just cause termination, the Courts ensure that the employers observe the requirements of due process considering that the livelihood of the employee is at stake. As dismissal is the ultimate form of penalty, the employers are reminded to impose it only as a last resort and when grounds are serious and true.
“To [the Supreme Court], dismissal should only be a last resort, a penalty to be meted only after all the relevant circumstances have been appreciated and evaluated with the goal of ensuring that the ground for dismissal was not only serious but true. The cause of termination, to be lawful, must be a serious and grave malfeasance to justify the deprivation of a means of livelihood. This requirement is in keeping with the spirit of our Constitution and laws to lean over backwards in favor of the working class, and with the mandate that every doubt must be resolved in their favor.” (Dongon v. Rapid Movers and Fowarders Co., Inc., G.R. No. 163431, 28 August 2013)
The 1987 Philippine Constitution – the fundamental law of the land – is often lauded for its progressive stance on labor. While other countries to do not usually have provisions on labor in their constitutions, the Philippine Constitution contains numerous legal provisions aimed at protecting employees – whether they work here or abroad.
Philippine National Bank v. Cabansag
G.R. No. 157010, 21 June 2005
[The employee – a Credit Officer directly hired at Singapore – was dismissed pursuant to a contract clause: “Termination of your employment with the Bank may be made by either party after notice of one (1) day in writing during probation, one month notice upon confirmation or the equivalent of one (1) day’s or month’s salary in lieu of notice.’”]
In any event, we recall the following policy pronouncement of the Court in Royal Crown Internationale v. NLRC:
“… Whether employed locally or overseas, all Filipino workers enjoy the protective mantle of Philippine labor and social legislation, contract stipulations to the contrary notwithstanding. This pronouncement is in keeping with the basic public policy of the State to afford protection to labor, promote full employment, ensure equal work opportunities regardless of sex, race or creed, and regulate the relations between workers and employers. For the State assures the basic rights of all workers to self-organization, collective bargaining, security of tenure, and just and humane conditions of work [Article 3 of the Labor Code of the Philippines; See also Section 18, Article II and Section 3, Article XIII, 1987 Constitution]. This ruling is likewise rendered imperative by Article 17 of the Civil Code which states that laws ‘which have for their object public order, public policy and good customs shall not be rendered ineffective by laws or judgments promulgated, or by determination or conventions agreed upon in a foreign country.’”
As a regular employee, [the employee] was entitled to all rights, benefits and privileges provided under our labor laws. One of her fundamental rights is that she may not be dismissed without due process of law. The twin requirements of notice and hearing constitute the essential elements of procedural due process, and neither of these elements can be eliminated without running afoul of the constitutional guarantee.
In dismissing employees, the employer must furnish them two written notices: 1) one to apprise them of the particular acts or omissions for which their dismissal is sought; and 2) the other to inform them of the decision to dismiss them. As to the requirement of a hearing, its essence lies simply in the opportunity to be heard.
The evidence in this case is crystal-clear. [The employee] was not notified of the specific act or omission for which her dismissal was being sought. Neither was she given any chance to be heard, as required by law. At any rate, even if she were given the opportunity to be heard, she could not have defended herself effectively, for she knew no cause to answer to.
All that [the employer] tendered to respondent was a notice of her employment termination effective the very same day, together with the equivalent of a one-month pay. This Court has already held that nothing in the law gives an employer the option to substitute the required prior notice and opportunity to be heard with the mere payment of 30 days’ salary.
Well-settled is the rule that the employer shall be sanctioned for noncompliance with the requirements of, or for failure to observe, due process that must be observed in dismissing an employee.
Accordingly, the State is mandated to afford full protection to labor, promote full employment and equality of employment opportunities for all, guarantee security of tenure, humane conditions of work, and a living wage. (Sec. 3, Article XIII, 1987 Constitution)
With these Constitutional provisions, as well as employment laws that were passed thereafter, it makes sense and is reasonable to think that Philippine laws are pro-labor. For the intelligent employer, this knowledge is empowering – rather than disarming. Labor law compliance should be mastered to ensure that the interests of the Management is protected in light of a pro-labor legal framework. After all, as discussed in the next section, social justice is not one-sided.
Balancing of Interests
No less than the Supreme Court has said that the law likewise protects the employer. There should be no injustice to the employer where the employee is clearly undeserving of continued employment.
It was held in clear and categorical terms: “We [the Supreme Court] cannot simply tolerate injustice to employers if only to protect the welfare of undeserving employees.” (Mansion Printing Center and Clement Cheng v. Diosdado Bitara, Jr., G.R. No. 168120, 25 January 2012)
Valiao v. Court of Appeals
G.R. No. 146621, 30 July 2004
Needless to say, so irresponsible an employee like petitioner does not deserve a place in the workplace, and it is within the management’s prerogative… to terminate his employment. Even as the law is solicitous of the welfare of employees, it must also protect the rights of an employer to exercise what are clearly management prerogatives. As long as the company’s exercise of those rights and prerogative is in good faith to advance its interest and not for the purpose of defeating or circumventing the rights of employees under the laws or valid agreements, such exercise will be upheld. (Emphasis supplied.)
It is established in jurisprudence that the employer “has the right to dismiss its erring employees if only as a measure of self-protection against acts inimical to its interest.” (Filipro, Incorporated v. Parino, G.R. No. 70546, 16 October 1986)
In another case, the impact of social justice results in slightly tilting the scales in favor of the employee. However, the Supreme Court pointed out that this was not by any means a license to do injustice against the employer.
“The law in protecting the rights of the employees, authorizes neither oppression nor self-destruction of the employer – there may be cases where the circumstances warrant favoring labor over the interests of management but never should the scale be so tilted as to result in an injustice to the employer.” (Southeastern Shipping v. Federico U. Navarra, G.R. No. 167678, 22 June 2010)
To this, the employer can take comfort that not all labor cases result in the employee winning. There are many cases when the employer wins labor cases. After all, the Supreme Court itself declared that social justice “is not one-sided.” (C. Alcantara & Sons, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. Nos. 155109, 155135, and 179220, 29 September 2010)
The key is to understand, apply, and execute well due process termination.