Almirante: Floating status of call center employee

Dominador Almirante

PETITIONER Telus International Philippines Inc. (Telus) first hired respondent Harvey de Guzman sometime in September 2004 as a call center agent. Later, he was promoted to junior quality analyst and to his last post as senior quality analyst.

On Aug. 4, 2008, he was issued a due process form on charges of “insulting or showing discourtesy, disrespect or arrogance towards superiors or co-team members and abusive behavior language which is outside the bounds of morality.” He was placed on a preventive suspension. Per his version, after the expiration of his preventive suspension, he was told that since there was no endorsement yet for another program, he was not yet required to work. He was considered as a “floater” and he will not get paid unless his floating status has been lifted. Aggrieved, De Guzman filed a complaint for constructive dismissal.

Upon the other hand, Telus claimed that De Guzman was not at all dismissed from employment and was in fact scheduled for profile interview to facilitate his transfer. Considering however his refusal to report for the interviews, he was not given any account and was placed on “floating status” allegedly because there was yet no available account for him.

Does this claim find merit?

Ruling: No.

Prescinding from the above, this Court cannot likewise subscribe to the argument of the company that placing De Guzman on “floating status” was perfectly acceptable under the labor laws. Telus compared De Guzman’s circumstances to that of security guards on “off detail” and insists that the call center industry is on all fours with that of a security agency or bus companies to their drivers wherein placing the employees on floating status without salaries or financial benefit for an indefinite time is a valid recourse so long as it does not exceed six months.

Contrary to the stance of Telus, the floating status principle does not find application in the instant case. While it may be argued that the nature of the call center business is such that it is subject to seasonal peaks and troughs because of client pullouts, changes in clients’ requirements and demands, and a myriad other factors, still, the necessity to transfer De Guzman to another practice/account does not depend on Telus third party-client/contracts. When the controversy arose, Telus had several clients in its roster to which it can easily assign De Guzman as quality analyst without any hindrance. As earlier admitted by Telus, profiling interviews were not a condition precedent to the transfer. Moreover, as established before the Labor Arbiter, after the lifting of the preventive suspension of De Guzman by Telus, the company had several job vacancy postings for the position of quality analysts, the very position previously occupied by De Guzman.

This situation applies not only in security services but also in other industries. Relevantly, it has been held that “in all cases however, the temporary lay-off wherein the employees cease to work should not exceed six months, in consonance with Article 301 of the Labor Code. After six months, the employees should either be recalled to work or permanently retrenched following the requirements of the law. Otherwise, the employees are considered as constructively dismissed from work and the agency can be held liable for such dismissal.” In the instant case, Telus did not provide any valid justification or presented proof that there was indeed a deficit of account that bars the immediate transfer of De Guzman or that the company was sustaining losses that would justify placing De Guzman on floating status. Hence, the unwarranted acts of Telus evidently constitute proof of the constructive dismissal of De Guzman.

To say that Telus merely exercised its rights and that any inconvenience or injury that De Guzman may have suffered resulted merely in damnum absque injuria which cannot legally give rise to a cause of action for constructive dismissal, is abhorrent considering the fact that his being placed on a “floating status” without valid reasons violated his security of tenure and resulted in unfavorable economic consequences to De Guzman. (Telus International Philippines Inc. and Michael Sy vs. Harvey De Guzman, G.R. 202676, Dec. 4, 2019).