But the Employee Assaulted a Co-Worker Inside Company Premises

On September 15, 2008, the employer, a rent-a-car company, hired Reynaldo for the position of driver for transporting tourists to their destination.

Reynaldo was in the employ of the company for seven years. He had no derogatory record. However, on the night of February 12, 2015, Reynaldo was involved in misconduct for the first time in his career.

On such date, Reynaldo engaged in a heated argument with a co-employee, Felix. According to Reynaldo, he left the work premises after his shift, but he had to return to retrieve his personal belongings. Upon arrival at the work premises, Reynaldo chanced upon Felix, whom he claimed was staring sharply at him. Reynaldo stated that he accosted Felix and asked if there was a problem. Felix fired back and asked Reynaldo the same question. A heated argument with shoving then ensued. Another employee, Jose, broke up the melee and led Reynaldo away from Felix.

The employer company, however, countered that Reynaldo was drunk when he confronted Felix to the point of boxing and strangling the latter that the two of them had to be restrained by its security guards. It claimed that Reynaldo refused to be controlled, until Jose arrived, and led Reynaldo outside the garage.

After the submission of various written explanations, the employer company placed Reynaldo under preventive suspension and conducted an administrative hearing. The employer company later concluded that Reynaldo violated its Code of Discipline for fighting with a co-employee inside the work premises. Thus, Reynaldo was terminated from employment on March 20, 2015.

Aggrieved, Reynaldo filed a complaint for illegal dismissal against the employer company.

The Office of the Labor Arbiter found that Reynaldo was not illegally dismissed from employment because fighting with a co-employee within work premises was considered by the employer company as serious misconduct and a valid ground for termination of his employment.

The National Labor Relations Commission affirmed the ruling of the Office of the Labor Arbiter.

The Court of Appeals reversed the findings of the labor tribunals and found that Reynaldo was illegally dismissed from employment since what transpired between Reynaldo and Felix was a petty quarrel that merely involved shoving or slight pushing. The Court of Appeals found that, except for a minor scratch in Reynaldo’s knee, the incident did not cause bodily harm. It was also found that the said incident did not in any manner interfere with the work of fellow employees, or the operations of the business. For the Court of Appeals, the penalty of dismissal imposed upon Reynaldo was too harsh and not commensurate with the act he committed.

Thus, it declared the illegality of the dismissal of Reynaldo from employment and his entitlement to reinstatement and backwages.

The employer company elevated its case to the Supreme Court.

Was Reynaldo illegally dismissed from employment?

The Supreme Court ruled in the affirmative.

The Court found that Reynaldo did not commit serious misconduct to warrant his dismissal from employment.

Jurisprudence1Empas v. Mariwasa Siam Ceramics, Inc., G.R. No. 246176, December 7, 2021. dictates that misconduct is generally defined as a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, a forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, willful in character, and implies wrongful intent and not mere error in judgment.

Under Article 297 of the Labor Code of the Philippines, an employer may terminate the services of an employee on the ground of serious misconduct committed in connection with or relative to the performance of his duties.2Relevant portions of the Article states: Art. 297. 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 lawful orders of his employer or representative in connection with his work; x x x

Jurisprudence3Empas v. Mariwasa Siam Ceramics, Inc., G.R. No. 246176, December 7, 2021. also teaches that in labor cases, misconduct, as a ground for dismissal, must be serious or of such grave and aggravated character and not merely trivial or unimportant. To justify termination on the ground of serious misconduct, the following requisites must concur:

  • the misconduct must be serious;
  • it must relate to the performance of the employee’s duties, showing that the employee has become unfit to continue working for the employer; and
  • it must have been performed with wrongful intent.

In the present case, the Court found that none of the requisites for serious misconduct was present. It agreed with the finding of the Court of Appeals that only a petty quarrel involving shoving or slight pushing transpired between Reynaldo and Felix. According to the Supreme Court, the same was nipped in the bud by the intervention of Jose and the security guards on duty. The incident neither caused work stoppage nor posed a threat to the safety of the other employees. Furthermore, the employer company never established how Reynaldo’s misconduct had adversely affected its business, or how Reynaldo had become unfit to continue working for the company. For the Supreme Court, no just cause supported the termination of Reynaldo’s employment.

The Court cited Article 294 of the Labor Code of the Philippines, which states that illegally dismissed employees are entitled to reinstatement without loss of seniority rights and other privileges and to full backwages, inclusive of allowances, and to other benefits or their monetary equivalent from the time their compensation was withheld from them up to the time of their actual reinstatement. The Court stated that Reynaldo deserved no less.

Further reading:

  • G & S Transport Corp. v. Medina, G.R. No. 243768, September 5, 2022.