Published 17 February 2023, The Daily Tribune
In Fontana Development vs. Vukasinovic (795 Phil. 913 ), the Supreme Court characterized a complaint for illegal dismissal as one that involves injury to the person and, thus, does not survive the death of the employee. Now, in the en banc case of Nedira vs NJ World Corporation, (G.R. No. 240005, 6 December 2022), the SC clarified that such action does survive given the special nature of such claim.
The SC found Nedira to be an opportune time to clarify the effect of the death of a complainant on a pending suit for illegal dismissal. The SC stated that a complaint for illegal dismissal may not be classified like an ordinary civil action, as to cause or foundation for purposes of determining the effect of the death of any of the parties to the case.
The SC understands that there are a plethora of cases that have different characterizations of an illegal dismissal claim — some allowed substitution, while some did not.
Hence, the SC poses this important question: Should a complaint for illegal dismissal be analyzed through the lens that one views an ordinary civil action — classified as either one that involves injury to the person or one that primarily affects property or property rights?
The SC finally answered this in the negative, and discussed, as follows:
First, an employment contract is one imbued with the public interest.
The Civil Code declares that the relations between capital and labor are not merely contractual. It is, in fact, one that impressed the public interest. As such, it follows that the interest involved in an employment contract is not merely private and individual, but also public.
Considering that such contractual relations are imbued with public interest, the enforcement of rights and obligations under such employment contracts is also of public interest. Concomitantly, any violation of the employment contract would necessarily be of public interest.
Second, illegal dismissal is a violation of the Labor Code and its implementing rules and regulations.
It is easy to mistake a complaint for illegal dismissal as one that is personal to the complaining employee. However, this fails to take into consideration an important matter — that the Labor Code expressly upholds the constitutionally guaranteed right to security of tenure by ordaining that a regular employee may not be dismissed except for just or authorized causes.
Thus, a dismissal without just or authorized cause is not only a violation of the contractual relationship between the employer and the employee but is, in fact, a violation of the Labor Code and its implementing rules and regulations. In short, when an employer illegally dismisses an employee, said employer is essentially violating a statute.
These two important considerations, which affect the very nature of a complaint for illegal dismissal, separate and distinguish it from the realm of mere contractual obligations normally implicated in a civil complaint. These considerations are of such character and weight that a complaint for illegal dismissal should not and cannot be classified in the same manner as ordinary civil actions.
This demonstrates the dual character of a complaint for illegal dismissal. It is an action predicated upon an injury to the rights of the plaintiff, the purportedly illegally dismissed employee. At the same time, the award arising from the finding of illegal dismissal — the payment of back wages — is not merely for a redress of a private right, but a command for the employer to make public reparation for his or her violation of the Labor Code.
Couple this dual character with the public interest imbued in labor contractual relations and it is evident that complaints for illegal dismissal cannot be classified as to cause or foundation in the same manner as ordinary civil actions insofar as the death of any of the parties and its effects are concerned.
Substitution by the heirs of the deceased complainant in a pending complaint for illegal dismissal should be allowed. This approach respects and breathes life into the public interest imbued in contractual relations between the employer and the employee. Further, it allows for public reparation by the employer in case he or she is found to have violated the Labor Code.