On September 2, 2010, Florencio was employed as a driver by a taxi company.
Florencio filed a constructive dismissal complaint with the National Labor Relations Commission on October 29, 2013, but he passed away while the case was still pending.
Emma, the widow of deceased Florencio, filed an Omnibus Motion (For Substitution and Extension of Time to File Position Paper).
When Emma was able to file a position paper, she claimed that Florencio was constructively dismissed from employment since he was placed on indefinite floating status. Emma added that the floating status was conditioned upon the payment of a penalty of Php6,000.00, which he could not raise because he was not allowed to work.
The taxi company countered that the complaint for constructive dismissal did not involve property or property rights. Thus, it did not survive the death of Florencio, and Emma could no longer pursue it.
The taxi company also denied that Florencio was constructively dismissed, and instead averred that Florencio was an on-call taxi driver who stopped driving after failing to remit boundary payments in 2013. The taxi company asserted that no documentary evidence supported the allegations in the complaint.
This case reached the Supreme Court.
On the issue of illegal dismissal, the Court ruled that Florencio, through Emma, failed to prove the fact of his dismissal. According to the Court, there was no evidence as to the nature of the supposed suspension, as well as the circumstances of the alleged constructive dismissal. Neither was there documentary proof to substantiate the claim that the taxi company required Florencio to pay Php6,000.00, and that, due to his alleged nonpayment, he was not permitted to work. For the Court, the charge of constructive dismissal was not established.
In this case, the Court looked into a matter that was not raised as an issue in the petition filed before it. According to the Court, the present case presented the opportunity to clarify the effect of the death of a complainant to a pending suit for illegal dismissal.
The Court mentioned the case of Fontana Development Corp. v. Vukasinovic1Fontana Development Corp. v. Vukasinovic, G.R. No. 222424, September 21, 2016. which characterized a complaint for illegal dismissal as one that involves injury to the person and, thus, does not survive the death of the employee.
According to the Court, the application or use of the classification of ordinary civil actions as to cause or foundation on the effect of death of any of the parties to a pending action, as ruled in Fontana Development Corp., involved an inherent acknowledgment that such classification properly applies to labor complaints for illegal dismissal.
In the present case, the Court scrutinized the propriety of applying such classification to a labor complaint. It asked:
Should a complaint for illegal dismissal be analyzed through the lens that one views an ordinary civil action — classified as either one that involves injury to the person or one that primarily affects property or property rights?
The Court answered in the negative. The Court ruled that a complaint for illegal dismissal may not be classified, like an ordinary civil action, as to cause or foundation for purposes of determining the effect of death of any of the parties to the case.
The Court laid down two reasons.
- First, an employment contract is one imbued with public interest.
The Court explained that the Civil Code of the Philippines declares that the relations between capital and labor are not merely contractual. It is, in fact, one impressed with public interest.2 Article 1700
Accordingly, the interest involved in an employment contract is not merely private and individual, but also public.
Considering that such contractual relations are imbued with public interest, the enforcement of rights and obligations under such employment contract is also of public interest. Concomitantly, any violation of the employment contract would necessarily be of public interest.
- Second, an illegal dismissal is a violation of the Labor Code of the Philippines and its implementing rules and regulations.
The Court noted that it is easy to mistake a complaint for illegal dismissal as one that is personal to the complainant, the alleged illegally dismissed employee.
The Court, however, pointed out that such characterization fails to take into consideration an important matter in that when an employer illegally dismisses an employee, said employer is essentially violating a statute.
The Labor Code of the Philippines expressly upholds the constitutionally guaranteed right to security of tenure by ordaining that a regular employee may not be terminated from service except for just or authorized cause.3Article 294, formerly Article 279 Thus, an illegal dismissal — a dismissal without just or authorized cause — is not only a violation of the contractual relations between the employer and the employee but is, in fact, a violation of the Labor Code of the Philippines and its implementing rules and regulations.
The Court said that these two important considerations, which affect the very nature of a complaint for illegal dismissal, separate and distinguish it from the realm of mere contractual obligations normally implicated in a civil complaint. These considerations are of such character and weight that a complaint for illegal dismissal should not and cannot be classified in the same manner as ordinary civil actions.
In this regard, the Court highlighted the dual character of a complaint for illegal dismissal. It stated that it is an action predicated upon an injury to the rights of the plaintiff, the purportedly illegally dismissed employee. One’s employment is a right and its violation is an injury. At the same time, the award arising from the finding of illegal dismissal — the payment of backwages — is not merely for redress of a private right, but a command for the employer to make public reparation for his or her violation of the Labor Code.
The Court added if one couples this dual character with the public interest imbued in labor contractual relations, it would be evident that complaints for illegal dismissal cannot be classified as to cause or foundation in the same manner as ordinary civil actions insofar as the death of any of the parties and its effects are concerned. To do so would be to oversimplify the nature of a complaint for illegal dismissal and, in the process, ignore certain characteristics of illegal dismissal complaints which distinguish and prevent them from fitting said mold of ordinary civil actions.
The Court thus ruled that substitution by the heirs of the deceased complainant in a pending complaint for illegal dismissal should be allowed. This approach respects and breathes life to the public interest imbued in contractual relations between the employer and the employee. Further, it allows for public reparation by the employer in case he or she is found to have violated the Labor Code.
- Nedira v. NJ World Corp., G.R. No. 240005, December 6, 2022.
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