Almirante: Reinstatement absent dismissal or abandonment

Dominador A. Almirante

PETITIONER Rodessa Q. Rodriguez filed a complaint against respondents Sintron Systems Inc. and/or Joselito Capaque for constructive illegal dismissal, non-payment of service incentive pay, separation pay, damages and attorney’s fees.

The Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the decision of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) which in turn affirmed the decision of the Labor Arbiter (LA) dismissing Rodriguez’s complaint for lack of merit. The CA concluded that since there was neither dismissal nor abandonment, the remedy would have been reinstatement without payment of backwages. However, the CA noted that the relationship between the parties was already strained. Hence, reinstatement may no longer be ordered. In the end, the CA made the parties bear their own losses.

Did the CA err in denying Rodriguez’s reinstatement?

Ruling: Yes.

The Court cannot agree with the CA as regards to the remedy it has afforded the parties.

Indeed, in cases where the parties failed to prove the presence of either dismissal of the employee or abandonment of his work, the remedy is to reinstate such employee without payment of backwages. There is, however, a need to clarify the import of the term “reinstate” or “reinstatement” in the context of cases where neither dismissal nor abandonment exists. The Court has clarified that “reinstatement,” as used in such cases, is merely an affirmation that the employee may return to work as he was not dismissed in the first place. It should not be confused with reinstatement as a relief proceeding from illegal dismissal as provided under Article 279 of the Labor Code.

Reinstatement under the aforequoted provision restores the employee who was unjustly dismissed to the position from which he was removed, that is, to his status quo ante dismissal. In the present case, considering that there has been no dismissal at all, there can be no reinstatement as one cannot be reinstated to a position he is still holding. Instead, the Court merely declares that the employee may go back to his work and the employer must then accept him because the employment relationship between them was never actually severed.

Moreover, as there can be no reinstatement in the technical sense of Article 279, the doctrine of strained relations likewise has no application. This doctrine only arises when there is an order for reinstatement that is no longer feasible. It cannot be invoked by the employer to prevent the employee’s return to work nor by the employee to justify payment of separation pay. As discussed, there having been no abandonment nor dismissal, the employee-employer relationship between the parties subsists.

Hence, there is no need for reinstatement. Hence, too, there can be no payment of separation pay. Separation pay is generally not awarded to an employee whose employment was not terminated.

In the present case, there is no compelling evidence to support the conclusion that the parties’ relationship has gone so sour so as to render reinstatement impracticable. The CA, which was the only tribunal here to have declared the presence of strained relations, failed to discuss its basis in supporting this conclusion.

In sum, the Court affirms the factual findings of the lower tribunals that Rodriguez failed to substantiate her claim that she was dismissed by SSI, constructively or otherwise. SSI likewise failed to prove by substantial evidence that Rodriguez had abandoned her work. Moreover, the doctrine of strained relations does not apply in the present case and may not excuse the parties from resuming their employment relationship or justify the award of separation pay. This being the case, SSI must be ordered to reinstate Rodriguez to her former position without payment of backwages. If Rodriguez voluntarily chooses not to return to work, she must then be considered as having resigned from employment. This is, however, without prejudice to the parties willingly continuing with their former contract of employment or entering into a new one. (Rodessa Q. Rodriguez vs. Sintron Systems Inc. and/or Joselito Capaque, G.R. 240254, July 24, 2019).