In a letter dated July 6, 2011, respondent Alphaland Corp. (Alphaland) offered a probationary employment for six months to petitioner Redentor Y. Agustin (Agustin) as executive chef with a gross monthly salary of P122,500. The offer was accepted by Agustin. The letter-offer which likewise serves as an employment contract states:
“As an employee of Alphaland Corp. you are expected to render the highest quality of professional service and to always pursue the interest of the company. Any behavior or action contrary will become the basis for appropriate disciplinary action on the part of the Company including suspension and termination.”
Barely four months from commencement of his employment, Agustin received a notice of termination. He was informed that regular employment status cannot be granted to him because he failed to meet the standards set forth by the company for his position.
Agustin filed a complaint for illegal dismissal against Alphaland praying for reinstatement and backwages.
Is there merit to his complaint?
First, the Labor Arbiter, National Labor Relations Commission, and later on the Court of Appeals uniformly found that Agustin was hired from the management’s standpoint as a probationary employee but was not informed of the reasonable standards by which his probationary employment was to be assessed. The standards set are too general and failed to specify with clarity what is expected of Agustin as an executive chef. Consequently, the lower courts found that Agustin’s dismissal was illegal.
Considering the foregoing, the probationary period set in the contract of employment dated July 6, 2011 is therefore purposeless. In no case was Agustin hired on a probationary status by Alphaland. As of July 6, 2011, Agustin became part of Alphaland Corp. as a regular employee of the company without a fixed term of employment.
Second, Agustin served as a consultant prior to being hired as an executive chef allegedly on a probationary status. The consultancy engagement offer provided that Agustin served as a consultant from June 6, 2011 until July 5, 2011, with a salary of P50,000. Narrated in the memorandum submitted by Alphaland, Agustin as a consultant was responsible for setting up the kitchen, choosing the equipment, laying out the job description for each kitchen staff, and the preparation of menus for all cuisines that the Club will offer. Following the completion of Agustin’s tasks as the Club’s consultant, Alphaland proceeded to search for an executive chef to head the Club’s restaurants. Since the opening of the Club was fast approaching, Alphaland hired Agustin as the executive chef for all the Club’s restaurants. Alphaland claims that since it still had to assess and determine whether Agustin’s skills as executive chef are at par with what the Club requires, it hired Agustin as a probationary employee.
We find this circumstance contrary to the ordinary course of business. Mainly, consultants are hired to provide their expert advice and opinion on what needs to be done. Records show that Agustin has been in the culinary industry for almost 19 years already, won several contests, and had served well-known establishments in the Philippines and abroad. When Alphaland hired Agustin as consultant, without doubt, it was fully aware of his qualifications and skills to set up the “kitchen” at the Balesin Island Club. This Court cannot agree that Agustin was hired as executive chef on a probationary basis since the tasks for which Agustin was engaged as a consultant were the very same tasks he had to do as an executive chef. In both engagements, Agustin was tasked to take over the kitchen planning. (Redentor Y. Agustin vs. Alphaland Corp. et al. G.R. 218282, Sept. 9, 2020).