SC Rules in Favor of Illegally Dismissed OFW

October 9, 2020

 The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a maltreated overseas Filipino worker (OFW) whom it said was illegally dismissed in 2015.

In a decision promulgated on July 8, 2020, the Court’s Third Division reinstated the September 4, 2015 decision of the Labor Arbiter in so far as it ruled that petitioner Donna B. Jacob was constructively dismissed and that respondents First Step Manpower Int’l Services, Inc., Muhammad, and Elnor Tapnio are ordered to pay her salary for the unexpired portion of her contract, with modifications that she is adjudged entitled to moral damages, exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees. Tapnio is the president of First Step, while Muhammad was Jacob’s foreign employer

Thus, the Court ordered the respondents to pay Jacob the amount equivalent to her salary for the unexpired portion of her contract; P75,000 in moral and exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees equivalent to 10 percent of the monetary awards. An interest of six percent per annum of the total monetary awards shall be imposed, computed from the time the complaint was filed until its full satisfaction.

The Court reversed and set aside the rulings of the Court of Appeals (CA) upholding the pronouncements of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), which overturned the Labor Arbiter’s decision in Jacob’s favor.

The Court noted with disappointment the unreasonably high bar that the majority in the NLRC and the CA set for a Filipina to prove sexual harassment and maltreatment from their foreign employers in a household setting, adding that it betrays a lack of appreciation of context or an insensitivity to the plight of OFWs.

The Court held that the courage of a Filipina to work as a household helper in a foreign land deserves much more than a cursory evaluation of the evidence on record and that the CA’s failure to appreciate the totality of the evidence which supports the claim of sexual harassment, maltreatment, and involuntary escape is definitely grave abuse of discretion correctible by the SC.

In 2014, Jacob signed a two-year contract with First Step as a household service worker to be deployed to Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on a US$400 monthly income. In January 2015, she was deployed overseas but stayed with her foreign employer only briefly before an early repatriation on account of her declarations she made under oath. She claimed that her male employee attempted to rape her and reported the same to her female employer who, however, did not believe her and later maltreated her. She escaped and went to her agency’s counterpart in Riyadh where she befriended a fellow OFW.

However, Jacob had to again escape from her agency and while doing so, injured her spinal column. In February 2015, Jacob underwent surgery and was later brought to bahay kalinga of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). In March 2015, she appeared before the Office of the Labor Attaché and executed a Final Settlement and Certification and was later repatriated to the Philippines. In July 2015, Jacob filed a case for illegal dismissal and won before the Labor Arbiter.

The Court held that the Labor Arbiter was correct in finding that there was constructive dismissal. It noted that the treatment Jacob experienced in the hands of her foreign employers fostered a hostile and unbearable work setting which forced her to leave her employers.

The Court described as absurd the respondents’ argument that Jacob was not dismissed when she impliedly admitted in her petition that she decided to be repatriated due to her medical operation. In resolving issues of constructive dismissal, the SC said that courts do not only weigh the evidence presented by parties but also delve into the totality of circumstances. In this case, the Court noted that it was apparent that Jacob could not have gone to the counterpart agency and injured herself while escaping were it not for the hostile treatment she received from her foreign employers.

The Court also dismissed respondents’ claims that Jacob voluntarily resigned due to homesickness as they failed to present concrete evidence to support this.

Jacob was entitled to damages and attorney’s fees as a result of her illegal dismissal. Having been illegally dismissed, she is also entitled to her salaries corresponding to the unexpired portion of her employment contract pursuant to Section 7 of RA 10022, the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act of 1995

(G.R. No. 229984, Jacob v. First Step Manpower Int’l Services, Inc., July 8, 2020)