SC Failure to Disclose Previous Employment Not a Ground for Dismissal
September 21, 2022
The Supreme Court has ruled that omission of past employment is not a just cause to terminate an employment.
In a Decision penned by Justice Henri Jean Paul B. Inting, the Court’s Third Division granted the petition of Nancy Claire Pit Celis to reverse and set aside the Decision dated June 7, 2019 and the Resolution dated December 6, 2019 of the Court of Appeals (CA). The assailed CA rulings reversed and set aside the Decision dated July 13, 2018 and the Resolution dated October 26, 2018 of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), and held that Celis’ employer, Bank of Makati (A Savings Bank), Inc. (Bank of Makati), validly dismissed Celis.
Petitioner Celis was hired on July 15, 2013 as an Account Officer of Bank of Makati’s Pasay City Branch. On May 23, 2016, the bank assigned her to its Legal and External Agency Department as an Administrative Officer.
By the end of 2017, the Bank of Makati’s Human Resource Department received a report that Celis was previously employed in the Rural Bank of Placer (Bank of Placer), Surigao del Norte and was involved in a case concerning embezzlement of funds. Celis did not disclose this past employment when she applied for a job with the Bank of Makati.
After an investigation and hearing, Celis was dismissed for violating the Bank of Makati’s Code of Conduct and Discipline (Bank’s Code of Conduct), for “knowingly giving false or misleading information in applications for employment as a result of which employment is secured.” Celis’s employment was also terminated on the ground of “serious misconduct, fraud, or willful breach of trust and loss of confidence” under the Labor Code.
This prompted Celis to file a Complaint for illegal dismissal, monetary claims, and damages against the Bank of Makati. She maintained that the omission of her past employment with the Bank of Placer was done in good faith and that the Bank of Makati failed to prove her involvement in the embezzlement case.
The Labor Arbiter (LA) ruled in favor of Celis and held that she was illegally dismissed, holding that her failure to state her past employment was not a serious offense that would justify suspension and termination. The LA also noted that Celis was never administratively found guilty of the supposed charge of embezzlement against the Rural Bank of Placer, which allowed her to resign without any derogatory record.
The LA’s ruling was upheld by the NLRC, but was subsequently overturned by the CA.
In reversing the CA, the Supreme Court stressed the Constitutional policy that whenever there are doubts in the interpretation of labor legislation and contracts, the former should be resolved in favor of labor.
In Celis’ case, considering that she did not actually state any false information in her job application but merely omitted to reflect her past employment with the Bank of Placer, she could not have committed the alleged infraction of allegedly violating the Bank’s Code of Conduct for concealing her previous employment.
“The labor tribunals aptly held that this is merely a case of an omission to disclose former employment in a job application, a fault which does not justify petitioner’s suspension and eventual termination from employment… [T]he penalty must be commensurate to the offense involved and to the degree of the infraction. To dismiss petition on account of her omission to disclose former employment is just too harsh a penalty,” the Court said.
The Court noted that Celis had been working for the Bank of Makati for almost five years when it raised, out of the blue, the issue regarding her undisclosed past employment. “To the Court, such matter is already water under the bridge. Likewise, the fact that [Bank of Makati] suddenly created an issue about [Celis’] undisclosed past employment lends credence to her allegation that the charge against her was only precipitated by her discovery of the corrupt practices involving her division head and her department head,” it said.
The Court further held that the CA’s reliance on the Principle of Totality of Infractions was misplaced. Under the Principle of Totality of Infractions, previous offenses may be used to aggravate a subsequent infraction to justify an employee’s dismissal only if they are related to the subsequent offense upon which termination is decreed.
According to the Supreme Court, even assuming that Celis’ act of omission did constitute an offense, her two previous infractions, (1) improper conduct and acts of gross discourtesy or disrespect to follow employees, and (2) personal borrowing from the bank’s clients, are not related to the offense that became the basis for her termination. Hence, the Principle of Totality of Infractions does not apply.
While the High Tribunal sustained the NLRC rulings, the Court deemed it best to award Celis separation pay in lieu of reinstatement due to the resultant strained relations between her and the Bank of Makati.
The Court also modified the monetary award with an imposition of a legal interest at the rate of 6% per annum from the date of finality of the Decision until full satisfaction. The case was remanded to the Labor Arbiter for the proper computation of the monetary awards.
Full text of G.R. No. 250776 dated June 15, 2022 at https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/250776-nancy-claire-pit-celis-vs-bank-of-makati-a-savings-bank-inc/