Published 27 September 2021, The Daily Tribune

Lots of people meet their partners at work, and yet dating someone in the office is often frowned upon. While many workplaces have become more diverse, they have not necessarily become more inclusive. Thus, when an office romance blossoms, employees shy away from discussing their relationship, or even hide it for fear of being terminated from their employment. However, may one be really fired for office romance?

The case of Inocente v. St. Vincent Foundation for Children and Aging, Inc./Veronica Menguito (GR 202621, 22 June 2016) is enlightening. In this case, St. Vincent dismissed its employee for engaging in an intimate out-of-wedlock relationship with a fellow employee. It must be noted, however, that both employees were both single and had no impediments to marry each other.

In ruling that St. Vincent is guilty of illegal dismissal, the Court stressed that “mere private sexual relations between two unmarried and consenting adults, even if the relations result in pregnancy or miscarriage out of wedlock and without more, are not enough to warrant liability for illicit behavior.”

The Court continued that while the actions of the lovers-employees might not have strictly conformed with the beliefs, ways, and mores of St. Vincent — which is governed largely by religious morality — or with the personal views of its officials, these actions are not prohibited under any law nor are they contrary to conduct generally accepted by society as respectable or moral. The voluntary intimacy between two unmarried adults where both are not under any impediment to marry, where no deceit exists, and which was done in complete privacy, is neither criminal nor so unprincipled as to warrant disciplinary action.

Similarly, in Leus v. St. Scholastica’s College Westgrove and/or Sr. Edna Quiambao, OSB (GR 187226, 28 January 2015), a non-teaching personnel, engaged in pre-marital sexual relations, got pregnant out of wedlock, married the father of her child, and was dismissed by the College, in that order. The College claimed the employee’s pregnancy caused grave scandal to the school and the students, which warrants her dismissal. However, the Court held that the College failed to adduce substantial evidence to prove that the employee’s indiscretion caused grave scandal to the students. The Court reminded the College that “bare allegations do not amount to substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other minds equally reasonable might conceivably opine otherwise.”

In a plethora of cases, the Court explained that in dismissal situations, the sufficiency of a conduct claimed to be immoral must be judged based on secular, not religious standards. Accordingly, when the law speaks of immoral or, necessarily, disgraceful conduct, it pertains to public and secular morality; it refers to those conducts which are proscribed because they are detrimental to conditions upon which depend the existence and progress of human society.

The cases of Inocente and Leus must be distinguished from Santos v. NLRC (GR 115795, 6 March 1998), where the Court upheld the dismissal of a teacher who had an extramarital affair with his co-teacher, who is likewise married.

In sum, not every case of office romance may lead to dismissal. Nevertheless, employees must still draw the line between personal and professional relationships. Love is wonderful. It inspires you to do things which you think you are not capable of doing. It lets you soar, enabling you to accomplish feats which are apparently beyond your human capacity. It transforms you to become a better version of yourself. It makes you want to live longer despite all the hardships and difficulties of life. But it can also be complicated. More so, if you mix it with work and pleasure. Someone said that the heart should be guarded with seven bolts to protect itself against unwarranted affections. From the legal standpoint, one should simply heed the admonition of the Supreme Court from the decisions we cited.

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