But the OFW Directly Communicated with the Principal and without the Knowledge of Its Agent

SRL International Manpower Agency (SRL) posted a job opening for its principal, Akkila Co. Ltd. UAE/Al Salmeen Trading Est. (Akkila), for a certain project in Qatar.

Pedro sent an application to Akkila, through SRL. In July 2010, SRL received word from Akkila that the latter was interested in hiring Pedro as Project Manager. Afterwards, SRL forwarded Pedro’s documents to Akkila for the processing of his employment visa.

Akkila soon furnished Pedro an “Offer of Employment” for a two (2) year engagement without the approval of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). Akkila and Pedro directly contacted each other and the latter was able to depart for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on October 14, 2010 using a visit visa instead of an employment visa.

On March 24, 2011, Akkila asked Pedro to return to the Philippines with an instruction to apply for deployment anew under an employment visa and with the condition that he should return 10 days after its processing.

In April 2011, Pedro returned to the Philippines and started processing his next deployment under new “Contract of Employment,” with the assistance of SRL

Pedro underwent a medical examination with SRL’s accredited clinic, Seamed Medical Clinic (Seamed), to assess his fitness for work. However, Seamed found that Pedro had Uncontrolled Diabetes Mellitus Type II and declared him unfit for work. This finding was reflected in a Medical Certificate dated May 10, 2011.

SRL disclosed such finding to Akkila and informed the latter that if it was still interested, it should send a waiver indicating its willingness to hire Pedro notwithstanding his unfitness for work.

Akkila replied that it had a strict qualification not to hire an applicant who is not fit for work. Subsequently, in a letter dated May 22, 2011, Akkila informed Pedro that he cannot be hired due to medical reasons.

In the case of SRL International Manpower Agency v. Yarza, the Supreme Court resolved three issues:

First: Was the “Offer of Employment” furnished by Akkila to Pedro valid?

The Supreme Court stated that since employment contracts of Overseas Filipino Workers are perfected in the Philippines, and following the principle of lex loci contractus (the law of the place where the contract is made), such contracts are governed primarily by the Labor Code of the Philippines and its implementing rules and regulations.

The Court added that the laws generally apply even to employment contracts of Overseas Filipino Workers since the Constitution explicitly provides that the State shall afford full protection to labor, whether local or overseas. Thus, even if a Filipino is employed abroad, he or she is entitled to security of tenure, among other constitutional rights. Security of tenure remains even if employees, particularly the Overseas Filipino Workers, work in a different jurisdiction.

Furthermore, the Court also stated that under the Labor Code of the Philippines, employers hiring Overseas Filipino Workers may only do so through entities authorized by the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment. The Court continued that unless the employment contract of an Overseas Filipino Worker is processed through the POEA, the same does not bind the concerned Overseas Filipino Worker because if the contract is not reviewed by the POEA, certainly the State has no means of determining the suitability of foreign laws to our overseas workers.

In the present case, the Court found that the “Offer of Employment” was perfected when Pedro agreed to the same while he was still in the Philippines.

However, the Court found that the “Offer of Employment” ran contrary to the Constitution and the law and was not approved by the POEA. Specifically, the Court found that the “Offer of Employment”, although stating that the rules and regulations found in UAE’s labor laws should apply, contained stipulations contrary to the policies of the Philippines concerning labor contracts and security of tenure.

With these findings, the Court declared the “Offer of Employment” invalid.

Second: Did an employer-employee relationship exist between Akkila and Pedro.

The Court ruled in the affirmative. Notwithstanding the invalidity of the “Offer of Employment,” the Court ruled that an employer-employee relationship existed between Akkila and Pedro.

According to the Court, absent a valid employment contract, the following elements of the four fold test should be considered:

  • selection and engagement of the employee;
  • payment of wages;
  • power of dismissal; and
  • the employer’s power to control the employee’s conduct.

The Court reiterated that the most important element is the employer’s control of the employee’s conduct, not only as to the result of the work to be done, but also as to the means and methods to accomplish it. However, the power of control refers merely to the existence of the power, and not to the actual exercise thereof. No particular form of evidence is required to prove the existence of an employer-employee relationship. Any competent and relevant evidence to prove the relationship may be admitted. However, a finding that such relationship exists must still rest on some substantial evidence.

In the present case, the Court found:

  • For the first element, Akkila, through the participation of SRL, selected and engaged the services of Pedro, precisely because he was deployed through a visit visa under Akkila’s instruction and endorsement.
  • For the second element, Akkila did not deny that it paid Pedro’s wages with the “Offer of Employment” as reference.
  • Regarding the third element, Akkila had the power to dismiss Pedro. In fact, it did so when it issued the termination letter dated May 22, 2011.
  • Lastly, on the fourth element, Akkila had control over Pedro’s work conduct, which included the means and methods he would employ to produce the results required by the company.

In addition, the Court took into consideration the fact that Akkila did not show proof that it took no part in directing Pedro’s job output. In particular, Akkila did not appeal the finding of employer-employee relationship before the Court of Appeals. Hence, the Court bound Akkila by such conclusion.

Third: Was Pedro illegally dismissed from employment?

With the existence of the employer-employee relationship, the Court ruled that Akkila should accord Pedro due process, both substantial and procedural, before terminating his employment.

The Court stated that to comply with substantive due process, Pedro can only be dismissed for a just or authorized cause, the absence of which renders his dismissal illegal.

In the present case, it was found that Akkila dismissed the services of Pedro on the ground of disease, under Article 299 [284] of the Labor Code of the Philippines. The said provision essentially provides that “an employer would be authorized to terminate the services of an employee found to be suffering from any disease if the employee’s continued employment is prohibited by law or is prejudicial to his health or to the health of his fellow employees.”

The Court further stated that to be considered valid, the dismissal on the ground of disease must satisfy two requisites:

  • the employee suffers from a disease which cannot be cured within six months and his/her continued employment is prohibited by law or prejudicial to his/her health or to the health of his/her co-employees, and
  • a certification to that effect must be issued by a competent public health authority.

In the present case, record showed Akkila’s decision to inform Pedro that he could not be hired due to medical reasons. However, the Court found that Akkila failed to present any certification from a competent public health authority citing that Pedro’s disease not could be cured within six months, or that his employment was prejudicial to his health or that of his co-employees. Said the Court, absent this certification, Akkila failed to comply with Article 299 [284] of the Labor Code of the Philippines as well as applicable regulations. For the Court, Pedro’s dismissal was not based on a valid cause.

Furthermore, the Court found that Akkila did not accord Pedro procedural due process. Record showed that Akkila unilaterally dismissed him by simply issuing a letter dated May 22, 2011. Additionally, Akkila sent this termination letter after it already issued a “new” Contract of Employment dated April 15, 2011 to him. Clearly, Akkila, after discovering that Pedro was deemed unfit for work due to diabetes, sought to immediately sever ties with him.

The Court accordingly ruled that Pedro was illegally dismissed from employment.

On the relief granted, the Court stated that even with the invalid “Offer of Employment”, the existence of an employer-employee relationship between Akkila and Pedro, as well as the illegality of his dismissal, entitled him to claim for the payment of his salaries for the unexpired portion of his contract.

In this regard, the Court also found it proper to award moral and exemplary damages under prevailing jurisprudence which allows the migrant worker to claim such damages in connection with the employment contract or as provided by law. Moreover, the Court awarded Pedro attorney’s fees at the rate of ten percent (10%) under Article 2208 of the Civil Code of the Philippines.

The Court stressed that the liability of Akkila and SRL was solidary, under Section 10 of the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, as amended.

Further reading:

  • SRL International Manpower Agency v. Yarza, Jr., G.R. No. 207828, February 14, 2022.