Hearing or Conference in Administrative Proceeding Inside the Company as Viewed in the case of Perez vs. PT&T
Hearing or conference is one of the procedural due process requirements in certain cases. The Labor Code mandates that the employee to be dismissed for just cause should be given ample opportunity to be heard.
Otherwise, the employer shall be held liable for indemnity in the form of nominal damages. The amount for this indemnity at present is PhP30,000.00.
Article 292(b) of the Labor Code provides that, in cases of termination for a just cause, an employee must be given “ample opportunity to be heard and to defend himself.” Thus, the opportunity to be heard afforded by law to the employee is qualified by the word “ample” which ordinarily means “considerably more than adequate or sufficient.”
In this regard, according to the Supreme Court (SC), the phrase “ample opportunity to be heard” can be reasonably interpreted as extensive enough to cover actual hearing or conference. To this extent, Section 2(d), Rule I of the Implementing Rules of Book VI of the Labor Code is in conformity with Article 292(b).
Nonetheless, Section 2(d), Rule I of the Implementing Rules of Book VI of the Labor Code per SC should not be taken to mean that holding an actual hearing or conference is a condition sine qua non for compliance with the due process requirement in termination of employment.
The test for the fair procedure guaranteed under Article 292(b) cannot be whether there has been a formal pretermination confrontation between the employer and the employee. The “ample opportunity to be heard” standard is neither synonymous nor similar to a formal hearing.
The SC further held that to confine the employee’s right to be heard to a solitary form narrows down that right. It deprives him of other equally effective forms of adducing evidence in his defense. Certainly, such an exclusivist and absolutist interpretation is overly restrictive. The “very nature of due process negates any concept of inflexible procedures universally applicable to every imaginable situation.” (Perez vs. PT&T, G.R. No. 152048, April 7, 2009)
The standard for the hearing requirement, ample opportunity, is couched in general language revealing the
legislative intent to give some degree of flexibility or adaptability to meet the peculiarities of a given situation. For the SC, to confine it to a single rigid proceeding such as a formal hearing will defeat its spirit.
Significantly, Section 2(d), Rule I of the Implementing Rules of Book VI of the Labor Code itself provides that the so-called standards of due process outlined therein shall be observed “substantially,” not strictly. This is a recognition that while a formal hearing or conference is ideal, it is not an absolute, mandatory or exclusive avenue of due process.
An employee’s right to be heard in termination cases under Article 292(b) as implemented by Section 2(d), Rule I of the Implementing Rules of Book VI of the Labor Code should be interpreted in broad strokes. It is satisfied not only by a formal face to face confrontation but by any meaningful opportunity to controvert the charges against him and to submit evidence in support thereof.
A hearing means that a party should be given a chance to adduce his evidence to support his side of the case and that the evidence should be taken into account in the adjudication of the controversy. “To be heard” does not mean verbal argumentation alone inasmuch as one may be heard just as effectively through written explanations, submissions or pleadings.
Therefore, while the phrase “ample opportunity to be heard” may in fact include an actual hearing, it is not limited to a formal hearing only. In other words, the existence of an actual, formal “trial-type” hearing, although preferred, is not absolutely necessary to satisfy the employee’s right to be heard.
In sum, the following are the guiding principles in connection with the hearing requirement in dismissal cases:
(a) “ample opportunity to be heard” means any meaningful opportunity (verbal or written) given to the employee to answer the charges against him and submit evidence in support of his defense, whether in a hearing, conference or some other fair, just and reasonable way.
(b) a formal hearing or conference becomes mandatory only when requested by the employee in writing or substantial evidentiary disputes exist or a company rule or practice requires it, or when similar circumstances justify it.
(c) the “ample opportunity to be heard” standard in the Labor Code prevails over the “hearing or conference” requirement in the implementing rules and regulations.