QUIRICO LOPEZ vs ALTURAS GROUP OF COMPANIES and/or MARLITO UY

G.R. No. 191008 April 11, 2011

FACTS:

Quirico Lopez (petitioner) is a truck driver of Alturas. 10 years of employment he was dismissed allegedly for attempting to smuggle out of the company premises 60 kilos of scrap iron worth ₱840.  Petitioner, denied the allegations by a handwritten explanation written in the Visayan dialect. 

Respondent on the grounds of loss of trust and confidence, and of violation of company rules and regulations terminated his employment. The result of an investigation also showed that petitioner had been smuggling out its cartons, thus prompted the respondent to file  a criminal case for Qualified Theft against him before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Bohol.

Petitioner thereupon filed a complaint against respondent company for illegal dismissal and underpayment of wages. He claimed that the smuggling charge against him was fabricated to justify his illegal dismissal

  • The Labor Arbiter held that petitioner’s dismissal was justified.
  • The NLRC set aside the LA’s decision, finding that Alturas’s evidence did not suffice to warrant the termination of Lopez’ services. It held that Lopez should have been afforded or at least advised of the right to counsel.
  • On appeal, the CA reversed the NLRC’s ruling, holding that Alturas was justified in terminating Lopez’ employment on the grounds of loss of trust and confidence. However, the CA held that due process was not observed when Alturas failed to give Lopez a chance to defend his side in a proper hearing.

ISSUES:

(1) Whether  Lopez’ termination was proper.

(2) WON petitioner was not afforded procedural due process when no hearing was conducted and was not given of counsel

HELD:

(1) Yes.  The SC finds that Alturas’ loss of trust and confidence arising from Lopez’s smuggling out of the scrap of iron constituted just cause for terminating his services. Loss of trust and confidence as a ground for dismissal of employees covers employees occupying a position of trust who are proven to have breached the trust and confidence reposed on them. Loss of trust and confidence must be based on substantial evidence, not on the employer’s whims and caprices.

(2) NO. It is enough the party was given a chance to explain his side of the controversy. The right to counsel and the assistance of one in investigations involving termination cases is neither indispensable nor mandatory, except when the employee himself requests for one or that he manifests that he wants a formal hearing on the charges against him.

In petitioner’s case, there is no showing that he requested for a formal hearing to be conducted or that he be assisted by counsel. Verily, since he was furnished a second notice informing him of his dismissal and the grounds therefor, the twin-notice requirement had been complied with to call for a deletion of the appellate court’s award of nominal damages to petitioner.

As to PROCEDURAL DUE PROCESS – is defined as giving an opportunity to be heard before judgment is rendered. The employer may provide an employee with ample opportunity to be heard and defend himself with the assistance of a representative or counsel in ways other than a formal hearing. The employee can be fully afforded a chance to respond to the charges against him, adduce evidence or rebut the evidence against him through a wide array of methods, verbal or written. He may also ask the employer to provide him a copy of records material to his defense. His written explanation may also include a request that a formal hearing or conference be held. In such cases, the conduct of a formal hearing or conference becomes mandatory. There is no violation of due process even if no hearing was conducted, where the party was given a chance to explain his side in the controversy. What is frowned upon is the denial of the opportunity to be heard.

Here, it was the error of the NLRC to opine that Lopez should have been afforded or advised the right to counsel. Right to counsel and assistance of one in investigations involving termination cases is neither indispensable or mandatory, except when the employee himself requests for one or that he manifests that he wants a formal hearing on the charges against him. However, there is no showing that Lopez requested for a formal hearing.

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