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Respondent Irene R. Ranchez (Ranchez) was hired as probationary cashier for five (5) months or from October 15, 1997 to March 14, 1998. Two weeks after she was hired, she reported to her supervisor the loss of Php20,299 which she had placed on the company locker. Petitioner Jess Manuel (Manuel) ordered her to be strip-searched by the company guards and reported the matter to the police. Ranchez spent two weeks in jail for failure to immediately post a bail based on information for Qualified Theft filed in the RTC Quezon City.
On November 25, 1997, Ranchez filed a complaint for illegal dismissal and damages. On March 12, petitioners sent Sanchez a notice of termination and/or notice of expiration of probationary employment. The Labor Arbiter dismissed the complaint for illegal dismissal that at the time respondent filed the complaint for illegal dismissal, she was not yet dismissed by petitioners.
NLRC reversed the decision of the Labor Arbiter ruling that Ranchez was denied due process by petitioners. Strip-searching respondent and sending her to jail for two weeks certainly amounted to constructive dismissal because continued employment had been rendered impossible, unreasonable, and unlikely. CA affirmed the decision of NLRC. Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration. However, the CA denied the same in a Resolution dated May 16, 2007. Hence, this petition.
Whether Ranchez was illegally terminated from employment.
Yes. 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.
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.
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