"x x x.
The sole issue for resolution is whether respondent was illegally terminated from employment by petitioners.
The Ruling of the Court
We rule in the affirmative.
There is probationary employment when the employee upon his engagement is made to undergo a trial period during which the employer determines his fitness to qualify for regular employment based on reasonable standards made known to him at the time of engagement.
A probationary employee, like a regular employee, enjoys security of tenure. However, in cases of probationary employment, aside from just or authorized causes of termination, an additional ground is provided under Article 281 of the Labor Code, i.e., the probationary employee may also be terminated for failure to qualify as a regular employee in accordance with reasonable standards made known by the employer to the employee at the time of the engagement. Thus, the services of an employee who has been engaged on probationary basis may be terminated for any of the following: (1) a just or (2) an authorized cause; and (3) when he fails to qualify as a regular employee in accordance with reasonable standards prescribed by the employer.
Article 277(b) of the Labor Code mandates that subject to the constitutional right of workers to security of tenure and their right to be protected against dismissal, except for just and authorized cause and without prejudice to the requirement of notice under Article 283 of the same Code, the employer shall furnish the worker, whose employment is sought to be terminated, a written notice containing a statement of the causes of termination, and shall afford the latter ample opportunity to be heard and to defend himself with the assistance of a representative if he so desires, in accordance with company rules and regulations pursuant to the guidelines set by the Department of Labor and Employment.
In the instant case, based on the facts on record, petitioners failed to accord respondent substantive and procedural due process. The haphazard manner in the investigation of the missing cash, which was left to the determination of the police authorities and the Prosecutor’s Office, left respondent with no choice but to cry foul. Administrative investigation was not conducted by petitioner Supermarket. On the same day that the missing money was reported by respondent to her immediate superior, the company already pre-judged her guilt without proper investigation, and instantly reported her to the police as the suspected thief, which resulted in her languishing in jail for two weeks.
As correctly pointed out by the NLRC, the due process requirements under the Labor Code are mandatory and may not be supplanted by police investigation or court proceedings. The criminal aspect of the case is considered independent of the administrative aspect. Thus, employers should not rely solely on the findings of the Prosecutor’s Office. They are mandated to conduct their own separate investigation, and to accord the employee every opportunity to defend himself. Furthermore, respondent was not represented by counsel when she was strip-searched inside the company premises or during the police investigation, and in the preliminary investigation before the Prosecutor’s Office.
Respondent was constructively dismissed by petitioner Supermarket effective October 30, 1997. It was unreasonable for petitioners to charge her with abandonment for not reporting for work upon her release in jail. It would be the height of callousness to expect her to return to work after suffering in jail for two weeks. Work had been rendered unreasonable, unlikely, and definitely impossible, considering the treatment that was accorded respondent by petitioners.
As to respondent’s monetary claims, Article 279 of the Labor Code provides that an employee who is unjustly dismissed from work shall be entitled to reinstatement without loss of seniority rights and other privileges, to full backwages, inclusive of allowances, and to other benefits or their monetary equivalent computed from the time his compensation was withheld from him up to the time of his actual reinstatement. However, due to the strained relations of the parties, the payment of separation pay has been considered an acceptable alternative to reinstatement, when the latter option is no longer desirable or viable. On the one hand, such payment liberates the employee from what could be a highly oppressive work environment. On the other, the payment releases the employer from the grossly unpalatable obligation of maintaining in its employ a worker it could no longer trust.
Thus, as an illegally or constructively dismissed employee, respondent is entitled to: (1) either reinstatement, if viable, or separation pay, if reinstatement is no longer viable; and (2) backwages. These two reliefs are separate and distinct from each other and are awarded conjunctively.
In this case, since respondent was a probationary employee at the time she was constructively dismissed by petitioners, she is entitled to separation pay and backwages. Reinstatement of respondent is no longer viable considering the circumstances.
However, the backwages that should be awarded to respondent shall be reckoned from the time of her constructive dismissal until the date of the termination of her employment, i.e., from October 30, 1997 to March 14, 1998. The computation should not cover the entire period from the time her compensation was withheld up to the time of her actual reinstatement. This is because respondent was a probationary employee, and the lapse of her probationary employment without her appointment as a regular employee of petitioner Supermarket effectively severed the employer-employee relationship between the parties.
In all cases involving employees engaged on probationary basis, the employer shall make known to its employees the standards under which they will qualify as regular employees at the time of their engagement. Where no standards are made known to an employee at the time, he shall be deemed a regular employee, unless the job is self-descriptive, like maid, cook, driver, or messenger. However, the constitutional policy of providing full protection to labor is not intended to oppress or destroy management. Naturally, petitioner Supermarket cannot be expected to retain respondent as a regular employee considering that she lost
P20,299.00 while acting as a cashier during the probationary period. The rules on probationary employment should not be used to exculpate a probationary employee who acts in a manner contrary to basic knowledge and common sense, in regard to which, there is no need to spell out a policy or standard to be met.
x x x."