Monday, April 09, 2012

Mabeza vs. NLRC [G.R. No. 118506 April 18, 1997]

Facts: Petitioner Norma Mabeza and her co-employees at the Hotel Supreme in Baguio City were asked by the hotel’s management to sign an instrument attesting to the latter’s compliance with minimum wage and other labor standard provision. The instrument provides that they have no complaints against the management of the Hotel Supreme as they are paid accordingly and that they are treated well. The petitioner signed the affidavit but refused to go to the City’s Prosecutor’s Office to confirm the veracity and contents of the affidavit as instructed by management. That same day, as she refused to go to the City Prosecutor’s Office, she was ordered by the hotel management to turn over the keys to her living quarters and to remove her belongings to the hotel’s premises. She then filed a leave of absence which was denied by her employer. She attempted to return to work but the hotel’s cashier told her that she should not report to work and instead continue with her unofficial leave of absence. Three days after her attempt to return to work, she filed a complaint against the management for illegal dismissal before the Arbitration Branch of the NLRC in Baguio City. In addition to that, she alleged underpayment of wages, non-payment of holiday pay, service incentive leave pay, 13th month pay, night differential and other benefits. Peter Ng, in their Answer, argued that her unauthorized leave of absence from work is the ground for her dismissal. He even maintained that her alleged of underpayment and non-payment of benefits had no legal basis. He raises a new ground of loss of confidence, which was supported by his filing of criminal case for the alleged qualified theft of the petitioner. The Labor Arbiter ruled in favor of the hotel management on the ground of loss of confidence. She appealed to the NLRC which affirmed the Labor Arbiter’s decision. hence, this petition. 

Issue: Whether or not the dismissal by the private respondent of petitioner constitutes an unfair labor practice. 

Held: The NLRC’s decision is reversed. The pivotal question in any case where unfair labor practice on the part of the employer is alleged is whether or not the employer has exerted pressure, in the form of restraint, interference or coercion, against his employee’s right to institute concerted action for better terms and conditions of employment. Without doubt, the act of compelling employees to sign an instrument indicating that the employer observed labor standard provisions of the law when he might not have, together with the act of terminating or coercing those who refuse to cooperate with the employees’ scheme constitutes unfair labor practice. The labor arbiter’s contention that the reason for the monetary benefits received by the petitioner between 1981 to 1987 were less than the minimum wage was because petitioner did not factor in the meals, lodging, electric consumption and water she received during the period of computations. Granting that meals and lodging were provided and indeed constituted facilities, such facilities could not be deducted without the employer complying first with certain legal requirements. Without satisfying these requirements, the employer simply cannot deduct the value from the employee’s ages. First, proof must be shown that such facilities are customarily furnished by the trade. Second, the provision of deductible facilities must be voluntary accepted in writing by the employee. Finally, facilities must be charged at fair and reasonable value. These requirements were not met in the instant case. Private respondent failed to present any company policy to show that the meal and lodging are part of the salary. He also failed to provide proof of the employee’s written authorization and he failed to show how he arrived at the valuations. More significantly, the food and lodging, or electricity and water consumed by the petitioner were not facilities but supplements. A benefit or privilege granted to an employee for the convenience of the employer is not a facility. The criterion in making a distinction between the two not so much lies in the kind but the purpose. Considering, therefore, that hotel workers are required to work on different shifts and are expected to be available at various odd hours, their ready availability is a necessary matter in the operations of a small hotel, such as the private respondent’s hotel.

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