Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What is the ER’s liability for non-compliance with requirements of procedural due process?

By Atty. Golda Benjamin

History of SC rulings:

1. Wenphil ruling or Belated Due Process Rule (8 Feb 1989) – where the employer had a valid reason to dismiss an employee but did not follow the due process requirement, the dismissal may be upheld but the employer will be penalized to pay an indemnity to the employee.
® In this particular case, the ER was required to pay an indemnity of P1,000 to the EE. The measure of the award depends on the facts and circumstances of the case, and the gravity of the omission committed by the ER

2. Serrano doctrine (27 Jan 2000) – the violation by the employer of the notice requirement in termination for just or authorized causes was not a denial of due process that will nullify the termination. However, the dismissal is ineffectual and the employer must pay full backwages from the time of termination until it is judicially declared that the dismissal was for a just or authorized cause.
® Rationale for change from Wenphil to Serrano: the significant number of cases involving dismissals without requisite notices (dismiss now, pay later). The imposition of penalty by way of damages for violation of the notice requirement was not serving as a deterrent.

3. Agabon doctrine

® After carefully analyzing the consequences of the divergent doctrines in the law on employment termination, the SC believes that in cases involving dismissals for cause but without observance of the twin requirements of notice and hearing, the better rule is to abandon the Serrano doctrine and to follow Wenphil by holding that the dismissal was for just cause but imposing sanctions on the employer.

® Such sanctions, however, must be stiffer than that imposed in Wenphil. By doing so, this Court would be able to achieve a fair result by dispensing justice not just to employees, but to employers as well.

® The unfairness of declaring illegal or ineffectual dismissals for valid or authorized causes but not complying with statutory due process may have far-reaching consequences. This would encourage frivolous suits, where even the most notorious violators of company policy are rewarded by invoking due process. This also creates absurd situations where there is a just or authorized cause for dismissal but a procedural infirmity invalidates the termination.

® Where the dismissal is for a just cause, as in the instant case, the lack of statutory due process should not nullify the dismissal, or render it illegal, or ineffectual. However, the employer should indemnify the employee for the violation of his statutory rights. The indemnity to be imposed should be stiffer to discourage the abhorrent practice of “dismiss now, pay later,” which we sought to deter in the Serrano ruling. The sanction should be in the nature of indemnification or penalty and should depend on the facts of each case, taking into special consideration the gravity of the due process violation of the employer.

® Under the Civil Code, nominal damages is adjudicated in order that a right of the plaintiff, which has been violated or invaded by the defendant, may be vindicated or recognized, and not for the purpose of indemnifying the plaintiff for any loss suffered by him

® The violation of the petitioners’ right to statutory due process by the private respondent warrants the payment of indemnity in the form of nominal damages. The amount of such damages is addressed to the sound discretion of the court, taking into account the relevant circumstances. Considering the prevailing circumstances in the case at bar, the court deems it proper to fix it at P30,000.00. The court believes this form of damages would serve to deter employers from future violations of the statutory due process rights of employees. At the very least, it provides a vindication or recognition of this fundamental right granted to the latter under the Labor Code and its Implementing Rules.

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