In order for an employer to enforce policies in the workplace, it has to prescribe penalties for when an employee willfully or negligently commits an infraction.
And a company can promulgate almost any kind of policy it wants, as long as within the bounds of the law, and of course, as long as the policy isn’t discriminatory, unfair, or unreasonable. To make the workplace professional, some employers make sure they have it in their Code of Conduct that an employee can’t make derogatory or offensive remarks towards another employee.
The type of penalties varies from company to company, and also depending on the type of offense committed. It usually starts at written warning and then graduates to final written warning, up until there’s enough basis to suspend an employee. Suspension is not a stay-at-home while getting paid card, it almost always means that you’re not getting paid while you serve your suspension sentence.
But what if you decided to disregard the order of your employer by reporting for work, anyway? What if you even refused to sign their order of suspension? Let’s examine the case of Areno v. Skycable (G.R. No. 180302).
Areno v. Skycable
Like most of my other labor law case examples, I won’t get into the details of the procedural aspects of Areno v. Skycable. Let’s get straight to the facts.
Jimmy Areno was dismissed, or fired, by his employer Skycable PCC-Baguio. But before that, he was suspended. The reason he was suspended was that a complaint against him was sent by one of his co-workers, Hyacinth Soriano, to their HR Manager. And in that complaint, Hyacinth alleged that Jimmy was spreading false rumors against her on two separate occasions.
Jimmy’s offensive behavior towards Hyacinth didn’t stop there. A couple weeks after Hyacinth complained to HR, Jimmy insulted her by telling her that he caught her going out with her own supervisor. Jimmy said all of this with malicious intent and in a provocative manner. After all of this happened, Jimmy was ordered by the company to submit an explanation.
Jimmy did provide the required explanation, and in it he denied ever saying the things Hyacinth was alleging him to have said. He insisted that none of the things he said were uttered in a provocative manner, nor were his words laced with malicious intent.
The company conducted an investigation into the incident between Jimmy and Hyacinth, and they found that indeed, Jimmy was guilty of having made malicious statements against Hyacinth. And under the Company Code of Discipline, this was categorized as an offense. Jimmy was suspended for three days without pay. He was served the memo of suspension, but refused to sign it.
Despite the suspension order however, Jimmy still came to work on the first day of his suspension sentence. This of course infuriated management and they gave him his first notice for termination. In that first notice, Jimmy was required to explain in writing why he shouldn’t be fired for insubordination. But a few days later, Jimmy came out and asked management regarding his status – was he already fired, or was he merely suspended? Because they wouldn’t let him into the office.
Well, the company was kind enough to say that he wasn’t really fired, and he was still under suspension. They gave Jimmy more time to tender his written explanation which he hadn’t done yet.
A couple weeks later, instead of explaining his side of the insubordination charge, Jimmy wrote to management requesting further investigation into his alleged offense against Hyacinth, of spreading rumors. He wanted to confront his accuser, Hyacinth, and present his own witnesses with the assistance of a lawyer. He wanted due process be applied to his case, and he felt it was unfair that he couldn’t be given a fair trial for his actions.
But did the company grant his request? Nope.
Aside from the legal issue on due process in this case, it’s important to know how the court answered the question, “Was there willful disobedience on the part of the employee?”
The high court answered that yes, indeed, there was willful disobedience. There was insubordination. Reporting to work when you are clearly ordered by your employer that you are suspended constitutes willful disobedience. And under Article 282 of the Labor Code (of the Philippines), willful disobedience is a just cause for dismissal.
“Willful disobedience of the employer’s lawful orders requires the concurrence of two elements:
(1) The employee’s assailed conduct must have been willful, i.e., characterized by a wrongful and perverse attitude; and
(2) The order violated must have been reasonable, lawful, made known to the employee, and must pertain to the duties which he had been engaged to discharge.”
The court said that both requisites were present. When Jimmy received the notice of suspension, he didn’t question it – he immediately defied it the next day when he came to work.
The lesson here is that if you ever get suspended, don’t try to make things worse by going back to work, Doing so is another offense in itself – willful disobedience.
Was there due process?
But what about due process? Isn’t every citizen in a democratic society afforded the right to the due process of law, which includes the right to present his side in a proper forum, plus the right to confront his accuser?
Was Jimmy denied his right to due process?
Well, let’s keep in mind that this was not a criminal trial. All of this happened in an administrative, private setting – at work. Don’t get me wrong, employers are still required to provide their erring employees ample opportunity to explain their side, all in the name of due process.
In this case though, there was enough due process given to Jimmy. The court said that undoubtedly, he was given enough opportunity to be heard and defend himself. In Jimmy’s case, he was already asked to explain his side. A committee was formed which investigated and exhaustively examined, and questioned both him and Hyacinth, his accuser. Jimmy even actively participated in the investigation by answering the panel’s questions.
As said by the high court, “The essence of due process is simply an opportunity to be heard, a formal or trial-type hearing is not essential as the due process requirement is satisfied where the parties are afforded fair and reasonable opportunity to explain their side.”
There you have it – you don’t always get to bring in a lawyer when you’re being investigated or questioned in a private setting. This wasn’t a crime that Jimmy was accused of, it was an offense as defined by a private company (not a state or government authority) under its own Company Code of Discipline. As long as the company has given you a fair and reasonable chance of some sort to explain your side, then they’ve already given you due process.
The employee doesn't always win
Another important lesson to learn from the case of Areno v. Skycable is that the employee doesn’t always win – and of course, you will find this in several labor law cases. With the deck stacked against the employee, you’d think that the courts will tend to favor the underdog, but that isn’t always the case. Law isn’t about what’s right or morally upright – at the end of the day, it’s about the law.
While some may find it unfair the way Jimmy was treated, remember that companies can make their own rules. And as you have seen in Jimmy’s case, the company provide the minimum amount of due process that was required – he was able to explain, he was heard, and then he got fired. Jimmy wanted to contest his getting fired, but the company didn’t let him. Sounds unfair, but at the end of the day, the high court said that it was all okay.