Almirante: Serious misconduct

Dominador Almirante

PETITIONER Bookmedia Press Inc. (Bookmedia) hired respondents Yanly Abenir and Leonardo Sinajon in 1995 and 1996, respectively, as in-house security personnel.

On July 20, 1997, petitioner Benito J. Brizuela (Brizuela) received a report from a security guard which claims that respondents, earlier in the day, had left the company premises moments after punching-in their respective time cards. The report also alleged that Sinajon returned on the evening of the same day and punched-out his and Abenir’s time cards.

In their letters of explanation, the respondents admitted to punching-in their time cards and then leaving work early on July 20, 1997, but explained that they merely did so because they had to attend to some emergencies in their respective homes on that day.

Petitioner Bookmedia dismissed both respondents from the service alleging that the incident was only the latest in a string of past incidents where respondents were caught committing the same infractions. The grounds for their dismissal were, among others, serious misconduct, willful disobedience of an employer’s lawful order, or fraud.

Was their dismissal justified?

Ruling: No.

The just causes of serious misconduct, willful disobedience of an employer’s lawful order and fraud all imply the presence of “willfulness” or “wrongful intent” on the part of the employee. Hence, serious misconduct and willful disobedience of an employer’s lawful order may only be appreciated when the employee’s transgression of a rule, duty or directive has been the product of “wrongful intent” or of a “wrongful and perverse attitude,” but not when the same transgression results from simple negligence or “mere error in judgment.” In the same vein, fraud and dishonesty can only be used to justify the dismissal of an employee when the latter commits a dishonest act that reflects a disposition to deceive, defraud and betray his employer.

The requirement of willfulness or wrongful intent in the appreciation of the aforementioned just causes, in turn, underscores the intent of the law to reserve only to the gravest infractions the ultimate penalty of dismissal. It is essential that the infraction committed by an employee is serious, not merely trivial, and be reflective of a certain degree of depravity or ineptitude on the employee’s part, in order for the same to be a valid basis for the termination of his employment.

The actions of the respondents on July 20, 1997, to our mind, lack the elements of willfulness or seriousness so as to warrant their dismissal.

The respondents’ act of leaving the workplace early, though unauthorized and violative of company time policy, was certainly not motivated by any wanton desire to transgress the said policy. As explained by the respondents in their letters, they only felt compelled to leave work early on July 20, 1997 because of emergencies they had to address in their respective homes.

Viewed in such context, the failure of the respondents to seek permission prior to leaving early could thus be attributed to a momentary lapse of judgment on their part, rather than to some design to circumvent Bookmedia’s time policy. For this reason, such transgression of a company policy cannot be characterized either as serious misconduct or a willful disobedience of the employer’s order. (Bookmedia Press Inc. and Benito J. Brizuela vs. Leonardo Sinajon and Yanly Abenir, G.R. 213009, July 17, 2019).