Serious Misconduct Exists When the Employee Creates False Narrative Against the Employer

Serious Misconduct Exists When the Employee Creates False Narrative Against the Employer

labor hr double bundleSerious misconduct as ground for valid dismissal requires: (a) the misconduct must be serious; (b) it must relate to the performance of the employee’s duties showing that the employee has become unfit to continue working for the employer; and ( c) it  must have been performed with wrongful intent.

Thus, the Supreme Court (SC) ruled in the following case of Metro Psychiatry, Inc. vs. Bernie J. Llorente (G.R. No. 245258, February 5, 2020).

Llorente was served with a Memorandum by MPI requiring him to explain why no disciplinary action should be taken against him for continuously refusing to perform certain tasks assigned to him by his immediate supervisor.  In his Explanation Letter, (in Filipino), Llorente bewailed how he was being treated by MPI.

MPI served Llorente with another Memorandum,9 this time, for: a. for falsely reporting to the parents of one patient that the latter was being maltreated in the hospital; and b. for failing to comply with the assistant nursing attendant head’s instruction to clean the facility and to attend endorsement meetings.

Per the Memorandum, the mother of a patient named David Warren Tan (Tan) appeared at MPI’s facility on March 17, 2016, demanding to see her son because earlier that day, she received a  text message from someone who claimed to be a former staff of MPI, stating that Tan was being subjected to  physical assault by the members of the clinic staff.

However, upon checking Tan, no sign of physical injury was found on him. Consequently, Tan’s mother called the informant via speaker phone, and as she did, Nurse Garry Dumalanta and Nurse John Paul Manawat (Nurses Dumalanta and Manawat) recognized Llorente’ s voice on the other end. When the management reviewed the closed circuit television (CCTV) footage on the said date, Llorente was seen flipping through patients’  charts and copying information, which he placed inside his pocket. MPI then issued the Memorandum requiring Llorente to explain his side.  He was also placed on preventive suspension.

Through an Explanation Letter (in Filipino), Llorente denied contacting Tan’s mother and alleged that he was merely copying the vital signs of patients for endorsement. Llorente also claimed that the allegations of him not attending endorsement meetings were untrue. As for his failure to comply with the instruction to clean the facility, he explained that it was not his job to do housekeeping because he is a nursing attendant.

Llorente received a  Notice of Termination informing him of his dismissal from employment for loss of trust and confidence and willful disobedience. This prompted Llorente to file a complaint for constructive dismissal against MPI. He posited that because of a previous labor case, MPI subjected him to harassment and discriminatory acts such as: reducing his work days,  assigning him to refill water and to clean the facility, and accusing him of calling Tan’s parents, among others.

MPI counteracted that Llorente raised immaterial matters in an attempt to absolve himself from his misdeeds. They alleged that Llorente was caught sleeping on duty and went on absence without official leave on March 4, 2012. He was also reported to be discourteous and disrespectful to patients. Additionally, he was given notices to explain his tardiness on September 16, 2012 and November 24, 2012. Finally, MPI was compelled to terminate the employment of Llorente for maliciously relaying false information to Tan’s relatives.

The Labor Arbiter (LA) dismissed the complaint.

The LA clarified that Llorente did not resign but was actually terminated from employment. Hence, his dismissal was not constructive. The LA found that Llorente’s allegations were belied by his own evidence because several employees, other than Llorente, were also assigned to perform tasks such as refilling water and cleaning the facility. Furthermore, the work schedule was di stributed among them. Therefore, the LA rejected Llorlente’s claim of harassment and discrimination.

With regard to Llorente’s actual dismissal from work, the LA ruled that there was substantial evidence proving that Llorente maliciously reported the alleged physical abuse to Tan’s parents. Also, the LA concluded that Llorente had no valid excuse for his disobedience since other nursing attendants perform the duties he refused to do. Thus, the LA upheld Llorente’ s termination from work.

The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) affirmed the LA ruling with modification.

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The NLRC agreed with the LA as regards the validity of Llorente’s dismissal. However, the NLRC awarded salary differential, service incentive leave, holiday pay, and pay for additional work days rendered by Llorente based on the evidence that the parties submitted.

The Court of Appeals (CA), overturned the ruling of the NLRC and the LA.

The CA held that the evidence presented by MPI against Llorente were inadequate to cause his termination from employment. According to the CA, MPI failed to substantiate their claim that it was Llorente who falsely alerted Tan’ s  family about his alleged physical abuse I because it relied entirely on the handwritten statements of witnesses, Nurses Dumalanta and Manawat.

While the CA found Llorente’s actions in the CCTV footage suspicious, the CA concluded that the same was not completely untoward since he is a nursing attendant. As for Llorente’s refusal to obey the orders of his superior, the CA deemed the penalty of termination harsh as he should have been subjected to a simple reprimand only.

The petitioner’s motion for reconsideration was denied by the CA.

The issues are as follows:

  1. Whether or not the unauthorized use of a patient’s personal information threatening harm on the reputation of the hospital in the industry and exposing it to a lawsuit, constitutes serious misconduct
  2. Whether or not the employee’s act of copying confidential information to create false narrative maligning the employer constitutes serious misconduct
  3. Whether or not the act of copying and pocketing confidential information amounts to substantial evidence warranting the dismissal of an employee
  4. Whether or not an employee who is charged with both serious misconduct and willful disobedience can be dismissed if the latter case is not proven

The Supreme Court (SC) found the petition meritorious.

The SC held that the CA overlooked that “the quantum of proof required in determining  the legality of an employee’s dismissal  is only substantial evidence,” which is “that amount of relevant evidence which a  reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion.”

In the present case, aside from the CCTV footage where Llorente was seen copying from the records and pocketing the paper where he wrote the information, Nurses Dumalanta and Manawat submitted their written statements avowing that they recognized Llorente’s voice on the  speaker phone as the latter talked to Tan’s mother. It was not shown that Nurses Dumalanta and Manawat were impelled by ill-motive to give their statements against Llorente.

Besides, the CCTV footage where Llorente was seen acting in a suspicious manner was recorded on the same day that Tan’s mother received the message about her son. These circumstances constitute substantial evidence of Llorente’s wrongdoing.

Even though Llorente refuted the accusation against him, he never alleged that copying information from the records for endorsement is something that is regularly done at MPI by nursing attendants as part of their functions. Worse, he hid the piece of paper where he copied the information inside his pocket.

On the other hand, MPI was categorical in stating that no employee is allowed to get hold of a  patient’s personal information. The CA justified Llorente’s act as not completely untoward because as a nursing attendant,  Llorente has access to a patient’s records at the hospital. However, the CA missed a crucial detail: having access to a  patient’s information is different from copying such information and pocketing the same.

Unsurprisingly, the incident involving Tan occurred after Llorente’ s questionable act. Coupled with the statements from Nurses Dumalanta and Manawat, Llorente’ s connection to the incident catapulted from a mere speculation to reasonable certainty.

While the CA entertained doubts as to the identity of the person who contacted Tan’s parents, the Court reiterates that “as opposed to the ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ standard of evidence required in criminal cases, labor suits require only substantial evidence to prove the validity of the dismissal.”

The standard of substantial evidence is satisfied where the employer has reasonable ground to believe that the employee is responsible for the misconduct and his participation therein renders him unworthy of the trust and confidence demanded by his position.” It would be unfair for MPI to continue to engage Llorente as a nursing attendant despite the presence of substantial evidence of his wrongful act, which amounts to serious misconduct.

“Misconduct is defined as the ‘transgression of some established and definite rule of action, a forbidden act, a  dereliction of duty,  willful in character,  and implies  wrongful intent and not mere error in judgment.” For misconduct to be a just cause for dismissal, the following requisites must concur: “(a) the misconduct must be serious; (b) it must relate to the performance of the employee’s duties showing that the employee has become unfit to continue working for the employer; and ( c) it  must have been performed with wrongful intent.”

Llorente’ s actuations of copying a patient’s personal information and using it to malign MPI by relaying a false narrative are indicative of his wrongful intent. His actions comprise serious misconduct because as a nursing attendant, he has access to private and confidential information of MPI’s patients, but he did not only illicitly copy the personal information of a patient of MPI, he also used the information to fulfill a deceitful purpose.

The unauthorized use of a patient’s personal information destroys a medical facility’s reputation in the industry and in this case, could have even exposed MPI to a lawsuit. Thus, MPI is justified in terminating the employment of Llorente.

Concerning the charge of willful disobedience or insubordination, Llorente’s refusal to heed the directives of the nursing attendant head, by itself, is insufficient to warrant his termination from employment. Here, it cannot be said that the penalty of dismissal is commensurate to Llorente’s  act of disobedience. However, viewed with the charge of serious misconduct, termination is justified under the circumstances.

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