Friday, February 24, 2012

Doctrine of "strained relations" - - G.R. No. 188722

G.R. No. 188722

"x x x.

The law on reinstatement is provided for under Article 279 of the Labor Code of the Philippines:

Article 279. Security of Tenure. - In cases of regular employment, the employer shall not terminate the services of an employee except for a just cause or when authorized by this Title. An employee who is unjustly dismissed from work shall be entitled to reinstatement without loss of seniority rights and other privileges and to his full backwages, inclusive of allowances, and to his other benefits or their monetary equivalent computed from the time his compensation was withheld from him up to the time of his actual reinstatement. (emphasis supplied)

Under the law and prevailing jurisprudence, an illegally dismissed employee is entitled to reinstatement as a matter of right. However, if reinstatement would only exacerbate the tension and strained relations between the parties, or where the relationship between the employer and the employee has been unduly strained by reason of their irreconcilable differences, particularly where the illegally dismissed employee held a managerial or key position in the company, it would be more prudent to order payment of separation pay instead of reinstatement.[17]

Under the doctrine of strained relations, the payment of separation pay is considered an acceptable alternative to reinstatement when the latter option is no longer desirable or viable. On one hand, such payment liberates the employee from what could be a highly oppressive work environment. On the other hand, it releases the employer from the grossly unpalatable obligation of maintaining in its employ a worker it could no longer trust.[18]

In such cases, it should be proved that the employee concerned occupies a position where he enjoys the trust and confidence of his employer; and that it is likely that if reinstated, an atmosphere of antipathy and antagonism may be generated as to adversely affect the efficiency and productivity of the employee concerned.[19]

Here, we agree with the CA that the relations between the parties had been already strained thereby justifying the grant of separation pay in lieu of reinstatement in favor of the respondent.

First, it cannot be gainsaid that the petitioner’s reinstatement to his former position would only serve to intensify the atmosphere of antipathy and antagonism between the parties. Undoubtedly, the petitioner’s filing of various criminal complaints against the respondent for qualified theft and the subsequent filing by the latter of the complaint for illegal dismissal against the latter, taken together with the pendency of the instant case for more than six years, had caused strained relations between the parties.

Second, considering that the respondent’s former position as bank encoder involves the handling of accounts of the depositors of the Bank of Lubao, it would not be equitable on the part of the petitioner to be ordered to maintain the former in its employ since it may only inspire vindictiveness on the part of the respondent.

Third, the refusal of the respondent to be re-admitted to work is in itself indicative of the existence of strained relations between him and the petitioner. In the case ofLagniton, Sr. v. National Labor Relations Commission,[20] the Court held that the refusal of the dismissed employee to be re-admitted is constitutive of strained relations:

It appears that relations between the petitioner and the complainants have been so strained that the complainants are no longer willing to be reinstated. As such reinstatement would only exacerbate the animosities that have developed between the parties, the public respondents were correct in ordering instead the grant of separation pay to the dismissed employees in the interest of industrial peace.[21]

Time and again, this Court has recognized that strained relations between the employer and employee is an exception to the rule requiring actual reinstatement for illegally dismissed employees for the practical reason that the already existing antagonism will only fester and deteriorate, and will only worsen with possible adverse effects on the parties, if we shall compel reinstatement; thus, the use of a viable substitute that protects the interests of both parties while ensuring that the law is respected.[22]

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