Almirante: Probationary employment of teachers

Dominador A. Almirante
·3 min read

Petitioner University of St. La Salle engaged respondents Josephine L. Glaraga and nine others as probationary full-time faculty members, each with a teaching load of 24 to 25 units. Beginning in the first semester of 2010 to 2011, respondents were engaged as probationary part-time faculty members each with a teaching load of only five units due to decline in enrolment. Petitioner likewise stated that this arrangement was only “until things would get better for the nursing course.”

From the first semester of 2008-2009 through the second semester of 2010-2011, respondents’ engagements were covered by documents of agreement covering five-month periods at a time containing certain criteria as basis for evaluation of their performance. In the summer and first semester of 2011, however, respondents were not offered any teaching load and they were not issued any new documents of agreement. Thus, they filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, salary differential due to diminution of benefits, damages and attorney’s fees.

Petitioner argued that “as probationary full-time teachers, respondents’ rights to security of tenure expire upon termination of their employment contracts.”

Does this argument find merit?

Ruling: No.

The three-year probationary period of teachers has been reconciled with the fixed short-terms of their employment contracts. If the main object of the employment contract of a teacher is a fixed term, as when the latter is merely a substitute teacher, then the non-extension of the contract validly terminates the latter’s employment; the rules on probationary employment are not relevant.

However, if the fixed term is intended to run simultaneously with the probationary period of employment, then the fixed term is not to be considered the probationary period, unless a shorter probationary period is expressly adopted by the institution. In this situation, if the non-renewal of the fixed term employment contract takes place after the expiration of the probationary period, then the termination of employment can be characterized as a dismissal, for which the Labor Code provisions on just and authorized causes shall apply. Likewise, if the non-renewal takes place prior to the expiration of the probationary period, then the termination of employment is characterized as a dismissal for which the same provisions of the Labor Code on just and authorized causes shall apply. It is only when the non-renewal of the fixed term employment contract coincides with the expiration of the probationary period that the termination of employment is deemed an exercise of management prerogative of the institution not to regularize the probationary teacher for failure to meet established standards.

While the parties are at liberty to agree to a short probationary period, the decision to do so must be unmistakable, otherwise the presumption is that a three-year period was adopted. In this case, in view of the vagueness in the parties’ documents of agreements, the Court of Appeals (CA) was justified in relying on the presumption that the probationary period was for three years as set by law.

The probationary period of respondents being three years, the non-renewal of their fixed term contracts during that probationary period amounted to a dismissal rather than a mere lapse of their probationary period.

There is neither allegation nor evidence of dismissal for just cause. Instead, the allegations and the evidence, particularly the letters of petitioner about the reduction of respondents’ teaching loads and schedules, indicate that dismissal was due to redundancy. This conclusion is reasonable given the admitted financial difficulties of petitioner. Therefore, the CA did not err in its concurrence with the findings of the Labor Arbiter that the dismissal was for the authorized cause of redundancy. The consequent monetary awards were likewise proper. (University of St. La Salle vs. Josephine L. Glaraga, et al., G.R. 224170, June 10, 2020).