Labor Law

Hellenic Philippine Shipping v. Siete G.R. No. 84082   March 13, 1991 Illegal Dismissal, Managerial Employees

FACTS:

Siete was employed on May 22, 1985, as Master of M/V Houda G by Sultan Shipping Co., Ltd., through its crewing agent, herein petitioner. He boarded the vessel on May 24, 1985, at Cyprus. From there, it sailed to El Ferrol, Spain, where it loaded cargo that it subsequently discharged at Tripoli, Lebanon. It then proceeded back to Cyprus.

On July 8, 1985, Capt. Wilfredo Lim boarded the vessel and advised Siete that he had instructions from the owners to take over its command. These instructions were confirmed by a telex sent by Sultan Shipping to Siete. Neither Lim nor the telex indicated the reason for his relief. The private respondent claims this information was also withheld from him by the petitioner upon his repatriation to Manila.

Siete filed a complaint against the petitioner for illegal dismissal and non-payment of his salary and other benefits under their employment contract. Petitioner alleged in its answer that the complainant had been dismissed because of his failure to complete with the instruction of Sultan Shipping to erase the timber load line on the vessel and for his negligence in the discharge of the cargo at Tripoli that endangered the vessel and stevedores. Siete denied these averments in his reply and reiterated that he had not earlier been informed of the cause of his dismissal and repatriation, either in Cyprus or later in Manila.

POEA Administrator Achacoso dismissed the complaint, holding that there was valid cause for Siete’s removal. Siete appealed to the NLRC insisting that he was dismissed without even being informed of the charges against him or given an opportunity to refute them. He added that, even assuming he was negligent in the unloading of the cargo at Tripoli, this shortcoming did not warrant such a severe penalty as his dismissal.

NLRC held Hellenic Philippine Shipping Company liable for the illegal dismissal of Capt. Epifanio Siete and awarding him salaries and other benefits corresponding to the unexpired portion of his employment contract.

ISSUE:

Whether or not petitioner is liable for illegal dismissal.

RULING: 

The findings of fact of public respondent NLRC are conclusive on this Court, there being no showing that they were reached arbitrarily. Substantial evidence has established that the private respondent was indeed not notified of the charges against him and that no investigation was conducted to justify his dismissal.

Moreover, the petitioner has failed to prove that Siete had been instructed to erase the timber load lines and that he had been negligent in the cargo unloading at Tripoli.

The Court notes that the reports submitted by the petitioner to prove its charges were all prepared after the fact of Siete’s dismissal.

The Labor Code provides as follows:

Sec. 1. Security of tenure and due process. — No worker shall be dismissed except for a just or authorized cause provided by law and after due process.

Sec. 2. Notice of dismissal. — Any employer who seeks to dismiss a worker shall furnish him a written notice stating the particular acts or omission constituting the grounds for his dismissal. In cases of abandonment of work, the notice shall be served at the worker’s last known address.

x x x           x x x          x x x

Sec. 5. Answer and hearing. — The worker may answer the allegations stated against him in the notice of dismissal within a reasonable period from receipt of such notice. The employer shall afford the worker ample opportunity to be heard and to defend himself with the assistance of his representative, if he so desires.

Sec. 6. Decision to dismiss. — The employer shall immediately notify a worker in writing of a decision to dismiss him stating clearly the reasons therefor.

The argument that the afore-quoted provisions are not applicable to the private respondent because he was a managerial employee must also be rejected. It is not correct to say that managerial employees may be arbitrarily dismissed, at any time and without cause as established in an appropriate investigation.

Managerial employees, no less than rank-and-file laborers, are entitled to due process. Loss of confidence, which is the usual ground for the removal of the managerial employee, must be established like any other lawful cause. Even if it be assumed that Siete was a managerial employee — an issue which, incidentally, was not earlier raised or resolved — the petitioner has not satisfactorily proved the reason for its supposed loss of confidence in him.

We are not persuaded that the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion in reversing the findings of the POEA.

On the contrary, we agree that the private respondent was illegally dismissed because, first, he was not accorded a fair investigation as required by law, and second, because the grounds invoked for his separation have not been proved by the petitioner.

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