Monday, July 27, 2015

The burden of proving just and valid cause for dismissing employees from employment rests on the employer, and the latter's failure to do so results in a finding that the dismissal was unfounded


“x x x.

The only barrier then to the petitioners employees' reinstatement is their defiance of the Labor Secretary's .return to work order, which the private respondents claim as one reason to validly dismiss the petitioners employees. We disagree, however, with the finding that Lakas Reformist violated the said order.

It is incumbent upon the private respondents to substantiate the aforesaid defiance, as the burden of proving just and valid cause for dismissing employees from employment rests on the employer, and the latter's failure to do so results in a finding that the dismissal was unfounded. [36] The private respondents fell short of discharging this burden.

Contrary to the Labor Arbiter's and the NLRC's view, the union's undertaking to cause absentee employees to return to work was not an admission that its members defied the Labor Secretary's order. Those who did not report for work after the issuance of the Labor Secretary's order may not have been informed of such order, or they may have been too few so as to conclude that they deliberately defied the order. The private respondents ailed to eliminate these probabilities.

The most conclusive piece of evidence that the union members did not report for work would be the company's logbook which records the employees' attendance. [37] The private respondents' own witness, Administrative Manager Rita Erni, admitted that the logbook would show who among the employees reported for work. [38] The logbook was supposed to be marked as Exhibit "14" for the private respondents, but was withdrawn, [39] then the private respondents' counsel, Atty. Godofredo Q. Asuncion, later intimated that the said logbook was "stolen or lost." [40]

We are not prepared to conclude that the private respondents willfully suppressed this particular piece of evidence, in which case the same would be presumed adverse to them if produced. [41] However, other evidence indicate that the petitioners-employees complied with the Labor Secretary's return to work order, namely, the private respondents' Exhibits "11" to "11-E." [42] These are Conductors/Inspectors Daily Reports which detail the bus trips made by a particular conductor-driver tandem, as well as the numbers of the bus tickets used during each trip, and these reports are all dated 30 December 1989 — merely two days after Secretary Drilon issued his order — indicating that a number of employees did report for work in compliance with the Secretary's order. Moreover, the said exhibits were executed by some of the employees ordered dismissed by the Labor Arbiter. [43]

The private respondents intended the exhibits to prove that only a handful of employees reported for work following the issuance of the Labor Secretary's order, but they never established that these exhibits were the only reports filed on 30 December 1989, thus, there may have been employees Other than those named in the said exhibits who reported for work in obeisance to the Labor Secretary. Certainly, the Daily Reports accomplished by drivers and conductors would not reflect the attendance of mechanics. Besides, it was not shown by the private respondents that their employees were required to file the Conductors/Inspectors Daily Reports such that those who did not file would be instantly deemed absent.

The private respondents thus failed to satisfactorily establish any violation of the Labor Secretary's return-to-work order, and consequently, the Labor Arbiter's and the NLRC's contrary finding is not anchored on substantial evidence. Grave abuse of discretion was thus committed once more.

X x x.”