Almirante: Employer-employee relationship

Dominador A. Almirante
·3 min read

Petitioners Henry T. Paragele and 29 others were employed as cameramen and assistant cameramen by respondent GMA Network Inc. They filed a consolidated complaint against respondent GMA for regularization, which was subsequently converted into one for illegal dismissal and money claims.

They assert that as camera operators assigned to several television programs of GMA, they performed functions that were necessary and desirable to GMA as both a television and broadcasting company. They further contend that their repeated and continuous employment with GMA after each television program they covered shows the necessity and desirability of their functions. Hence, they have already attained the status of regular employees.

Upon the other hand, GMA refutes the existence of an employer-employee relationship. It maintains that petitioners were mere “pinch-hitters or relievers” who were engaged to augment its regular crew whenever there is a need for substitute or additional workforce. It asserts further that the “service fees” given to them were not compensation paid to an employee but rather remuneration for services rendered as pinch-hitters/freelancers. It belies it exercised control over them. It claims that it only monitored their work performance to ensure that the “end result” is compliant with company standards.

Does GMA’s defense find merit?

Ruling: No.

GMA’s arguments fail to impress.

Thus, to be considered employees of GMA, petitioners must prove the following: (1) that GMA engaged their services; (2) that GMA compensated them; (3) that GMA had the power to dismiss them; and more importantly, (4) that GMA exercised control over the means and methods of their work.

On the power of hiring, there is no question that petitioners were engaged by and rendered services directly to GMA. Even GMA concedes that it engaged petitioners to perform functions, which had been found by the National Labor Relations Commission and the Court of Appeals to be necessary and desirable to GMA’s usual business as both a television and broadcasting company.

On the payment of wages, that petitioners were paid so-called “service fees” and not “wages” is merely a matter of nomenclature. Likewise, it is of no consequence that petitioners were paid on a per-shoot basis, since this is only a mode of computing compensation and does not, in any way, preclude GMA’s control over the distribution of their wages and the manner by which they carried out their work.

It is settled that the mode of computing compensation is not the decisive factor in ascertaining the existence of an employer-employee relationship. What matters is that the employee received compensation from the employer for the services that he or she rendered. Here, there is no question that GMA directly compensated petitioners for their services.

On the power to dismiss, the Court of Appeals correctly sustained the National Labor Relations Commission in noting that the power of dismissal “is implied and is concomitant with the power to select and engage; in other words, it is also the power to disengage.” GMA maintains that petitioners were merely “disengaged” from service. This, again, is a futile effort at splitting hairs. Disengagement in the context of an employer-employee relationship amounts to dismissal.

Finally, on the most important element of control, it becomes necessary to determine whether GMA exercised control over the means and methods of petitioners’ work. Moreover, given GMA’s specific representations on the nature of its engagement with petitioners, a review of the difference between an independent contractor and an employee is in order.

GMA rejects an explicit nomenclature recognizing it as having engaged petitioners as “talents” or independent contractors. Yet, its denial of an employer-employee relationship, coupled with the claim that it merely exercised control over the output required of petitioners, is an implicit assertion that it engaged petitioners as independent contractors. It also does not escape this Court’s attention that the remuneration given to the petitioners was denominated as “talent fee.” This is consistent with petitioners’ allegation that they were made to sign contracts indicating that they were “talents” or independent contractors of GMA. (Henry T. Paragele, et al. vs. GMA Network Inc., G.R. 235315, July 13, 2020).