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[ABBOTT LABORATORIES v. PEARLIE ANN F. ALCARAZ](https://lawyerly.ph/juris/view/cddc6?user=fbGU2WFpmaitMVEVGZ2lBVW5xZ2RVdz09)
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EN BANC

[ GR No. 192571, Apr 22, 2014 ]

ABBOTT LABORATORIES v. PEARLIE ANN F. ALCARAZ +

RESOLUTION



EN BANC

[ G.R. No. 192571, April 22, 2014 ]

ABBOTT LABORATORIES, PHILIPPINES, CECILLE A. TERRIBLE, EDWIN D. FEIST, MARIA OLIVIA T. YABUT-MISA, TERESITA C. BERNARDO, AND ALLAN G. ALMAZAR, PETITIONERS, VS. PEARLIE ANN F. ALCARAZ, RESPONDENT.

R E S O L U T I O N

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

For resolution is respondent Pearlie Ann Alcaraz's (Alcaraz) Motion for Reconsideration dated August 23, 2013 of the Court's Decision dated July 23, 2013 (Decision).[1]

At the outset, there appears to be no substantial argument in the said motion sufficient for the Court to depart from the pronouncements made in the initial ruling. But if only to address Alcaraz's novel assertions, and to so placate any doubt or misconception in the resolution of this case, the Court proceeds to shed light on the matters indicated below.

A. Manner of review.

Alcaraz contends that the Court should not have conducted a re-weighing of evidence since a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court (Rules) is limited to the review of questions of law. She submits that since what was under review was a ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA) rendered via a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules, the Court should only determine whether or not the CA properly determined that the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) committed a grave abuse of discretion.

The assertion does not justify the reconsideration of the assailed Decision.

A careful perusal of the questioned Decision will reveal that the Court actually resolved the controversy under the above-stated framework of analysis. Essentially, the Court found the CA to have committed an error in holding that no grave abuse of discretion can be ascribed to the NLRC since the latter arbitrarily disregarded the legal implication of the attendant circumstances in this case which should have simply resulted in the finding that Alcaraz was apprised of the performance standards for her regularization and hence, was properly a probationary employee. As the Court observed, an employee's failure to perform the duties and responsibilities which have been clearly made known to him constitutes a justifiable basis for a probationary employee's non-regularization. As detailed in the Decision, Alcaraz was well-apprised of her duties and responsibilities as well as the probationary status of her employment:

(a) On June 27, 2004, [Abbott Laboratories, Philippines (Abbott)] caused the publication in a major broadsheet newspaper of its need for a Regulatory Affairs Manager, indicating therein the job description for as well as the duties and responsibilities attendant to the aforesaid position; this prompted Alcaraz to submit her application to Abbott on October 4, 2004;

(b) In Abbott's December 7, 2004 offer sheet, it was stated that Alcaraz was to be employed on a probationary status;

(c) On February 12, 2005, Alcaraz signed an employment contract which specifically stated, inter alia, that she was to be placed on probation for a period of six (6) months beginning February 15, 2005 to August 14, 2005;

(d) On the day Alcaraz accepted Abbott's employment offer, Bernardo sent her copies of Abbott's organizational structure and her job description through e-mail;

(e) Alcaraz was made to undergo a pre-employment orientation where [Allan G. Almazar] informed her that she had to implement Abbott's Code of Conduct and office policies on human resources and finance and that she would be reporting directly to [Kelly Walsh];

(f) Alcaraz was also required to undergo a training program as part of her orientation;

(g) Alcaraz received copies of Abbott's Code of Conduct and Performance Modules from [Maria Olivia T. Yabut-Misa] who explained to her the procedure for evaluating the performance of probationary employees; she was further notified that Abbott had only one evaluation system for all of its employees; and

(h) Moreover, Alcaraz had previously worked for another pharmaceutical company and had admitted to have an "extensive training and background" to acquire the necessary skills for her job.[2]

Considering the foregoing incidents which were readily observable from the records, the Court reached the conclusion that the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion, viz.:

[I]n holding that Alcaraz was illegally dismissed due to her status as a regular and not a probationary employee, the Court finds that the NLRC committed a grave abuse of discretion.

To elucidate, records show that the NLRC based its decision on the premise that Alcaraz's receipt of her job description and Abbott's Code of Conduct and Performance Modules was not equivalent to being actually informed of the performance standards upon which she should have been evaluated on. It, however, overlooked the legal implication of the other attendant circumstances as detailed herein which should have warranted a contrary finding that Alcaraz was indeed a probationary and not a regular employee more particularly the fact that she was well-aware of her duties and responsibilities and that her failure to adequately perform the same would lead to her non-regularization and eventually, her termination.[3]

Consequently, since the CA found that the NLRC did not commit grave abuse of discretion and denied the certiorari petition before it, the reversal of its ruling was thus in order.

At this juncture, it bears exposition that while NLRC decisions are, by their nature, final and executory[4] and, hence, not subject to appellate review,[5]  the Court is not precluded from considering other questions of law aside from the CA's finding on the NLRC's grave abuse of discretion. While the focal point of analysis revolves on this issue, the Court may deal with ancillary issues such as, in this case, the question of how a probationary employee is deemed to have been informed of the standards of his regularization if only to determine if the concepts and principles of labor law were correctly applied or misapplied by the NLRC in its decision. In other words, the Court's analysis of the NLRC's interpretation of the environmental principles and concepts of labor law is not completely prohibited in as it is complementary to a Rule 45 review of labor cases.

Finally, if only to put to rest Alcaraz's misgivings on the manner in which this case was reviewed, it bears pointing out that no "factual appellate review" was conducted by the Court in the Decision. Rather, the Court proceeded to interpret the relevant rules on probationary employment as applied to settled factual findings. Besides, even on the assumption that a scrutiny of facts was undertaken, the Court is not altogether barred from conducting the same. This was explained in the case of Career Philippines Shipmanagement, Inc. v. Serna[6] wherein the Court held as follows:

Accordingly, we do not re-examine conflicting evidence, re-evaluate the credibility of witnesses, or substitute the findings of fact of the NLRC, an administrative body that has expertise in its specialized field. Nor do we substitute our "own judgment for that of the tribunal in determining where the weight of evidence lies or what evidence is credible." The factual findings of the NLRC, when affirmed by the CA, are generally conclusive on this Court.

Nevertheless, there are exceptional cases where we, in the exercise of our discretionary appellate jurisdiction may be urged to look into factual issues raised in a Rule 45 petition. For instance, when the petitioner persuasively alleges that there is insufficient or insubstantial evidence on record to support the factual findings of the tribunal or court a quo, as Section 5, Rule 133 of the Rules of Court states in express terms that in cases filed before administrative or quasi-judicial bodies, a fact may be deemed established only if supported by substantial evidence.[7] (Emphasis supplied)

B. Standards for regularization;
conceptual underpinnings.


Alcaraz posits that, contrary to the Court's Decision, one's job description cannot by and of itself be treated as a standard for regularization as a standard denotes a measure of quantity or quality. By way of example, Alcaraz cites the case of a probationary salesperson and asks how does such employee achieve regular status if he does not know how much he needs to sell to reach the same.

The argument is untenable.

First off, the Court must correct Alcaraz's mistaken notion: it is not the probationary employee's job description but the adequate performance of his duties and responsibilities which constitutes the inherent and implied standard for regularization. To echo the fundamental point of the Decision, if the probationary employee had been fully apprised by his employer of these duties and responsibilities, then basic knowledge and common sense dictate that he must adequately perform the same, else he fails to pass the probationary trial and may therefore be subject to termination.[8]

The determination of "adequate performance" is not, in all cases, measurable by quantitative specification, such as that of a sales quota in Alcaraz's example. It is also hinged on the qualitative assessment of the employee's work; by its nature, this largely rests on the reasonable exercise of the employer's management prerogative. While in some instances the standards used in measuring the quality of work may be conveyed such as workers who construct tangible products which follow particular metrics, not all standards of quality measurement may be reducible to hard figures or are readily articulable in specific pre-engagement descriptions. A good example would be the case of probationary employees whose tasks involve the application of discretion and intellect, such as to name a few lawyers, artists, and journalists. In these kinds of occupation, the best that the employer can do at the time of engagement is to inform the probationary employee of his duties and responsibilities and to orient him on how to properly proceed with the same. The employer cannot bear out in exacting detail at the beginning of the engagement what he deems as "quality work" especially since the probationary employee has yet to submit the required output. In the ultimate analysis, the communication of performance standards should be perceived within the context of the nature of the probationary employee's duties and responsibilities.

The same logic applies to a probationary managerial employee who is tasked to supervise a particular department, as Alcaraz in this case. It is hardly possible for the employer, at the time of the employee's engagement, to map into technical indicators, or convey in precise detail the quality standards by which the latter should effectively manage the department. Factors which gauge the ability of the managerial employee to either deal with his subordinates (e.g., how to spur their performance, or command respect and obedience from them), or to organize office policies, are hardly conveyable at the outset of the engagement since the employee has yet to be immersed into the work itself. Given that a managerial role essentially connotes an exercise of discretion, the quality of effective management can only be determined through subsequent assessment. While at the time of engagement, reason dictates that the employer can only inform the probationary managerial employee of his duties and responsibilities as such and provide the allowable parameters for the same. Verily, as stated in the Decision, the adequate performance of such duties and responsibilities is, by and of itself, an implied standard of regularization.

In this relation, it bears mentioning that the performance standard contemplated by law should not, in all cases, be contained in a specialized system of feedbacks or evaluation. The Court takes judicial notice of the fact that not all employers, such as simple businesses or small-scale enterprises, have a sophisticated form of human resource management, so much so that the adoption of technical indicators as utilized through "comment cards" or "appraisal" tools should not be treated as a prerequisite for every case of probationary engagement. In fact, even if a system of such kind is employed and the procedures for its implementation are not followed, once an employer determines that the probationary employee fails to meet the standards required for his regularization, the former is not precluded from dismissing the latter. The rule is that when a valid cause for termination exists, the procedural infirmity attending the termination only warrants the payment of nominal damages. This was the principle laid down in the landmark cases of Agabon v. NLRC[9] (Agabon) and Jaka Food Processing Corporation v. Pacot[10] (Jaka). In the assailed Decision, the Court actually extended the application of the Agabon and Jaka rulings to breaches of company procedure, notwithstanding the employer's compliance with the statutory requirements under the Labor Code.[11] Hence, although Abbott did not comply with its own termination procedure, its non-compliance thereof would not detract from the finding that there subsists a valid cause to terminate Alcaraz's employment. Abbott, however, was penalized for its contractual breach and thereby ordered to pay nominal damages.

As a final point, Alcaraz cannot take refuge in Aliling v. Feliciano[12] (Aliling) since the same is not squarely applicable to the case at bar. The employee in Aliling, a sales executive, was belatedly informed of his quota requirement. Thus, considering the nature of his position, the fact that he was not informed of his sales quota at the time of his engagement changed the complexion of his employment. Contrarily, the nature of Alcaraz's duties and responsibilities as Regulatory Affairs Manager negates the application of the foregoing. Records show that Alcaraz was terminated because she (a) did not manage her time effectively; (b) failed to gain the trust of her staff and to build an effective rapport with them; (c) failed to train her staff effectively; and (d) was not able to obtain the knowledge and ability to make sound judgments on case processing and article review which were necessary for the proper performance of her duties.[13] Due to the nature and variety of these managerial functions, the best that Abbott could have done, at the time of Alcaraz's engagement, was to inform her of her duties and responsibilities, the adequate performance of which, to repeat, is an inherent and implied standard for regularization; this is unlike the circumstance in Aliling where a quantitative regularization standard, in the term of a sales quota, was readily articulable to the employee at the outset. Hence, since the reasonableness of Alcaraz's assessment clearly appears from the records, her termination was justified. Bear in mind that the quantum of proof which the employer must discharge is only substantial evidence which, as defined in case law, means that amount of relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other minds, equally reasonable, might conceivably opine otherwise.[14] To the Court's mind, this threshold of evidence Abbott amply overcame in this case.

All told, the Court hereby denies the instant motion for reconsideration and thereby upholds the Decision in the main case.

WHEREFORE, the motion for reconsideration dated August 23, 2013 of the Court's Decision dated July 23, 2013 in this case is hereby DENIED.

SO ORDERED.

Sereno, C.J., Carpio, Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Abad, Villarama, Jr., Perez, Mendoza, and Reyes,  JJ., concur.
Brion, J., see my dissent.
Leonen, J., I join the dissent of J. Brion.



[1] Abbot Laboratories, Philippines v. Alcaraz, G.R. No. 192571, July 23, 2013, 701 SCRA 682.

[2] Id. at 708-709.

[3] Id. at 710.

[4] See Article 223 of the Labor Code, as amended.

[5] See St. Martin Funeral Home v. NLRC, 356 Phil. 811 (1998).

[6] G.R. No. 172086, December 3, 2012, 686 SCRA 676.

[7] Id. at 684-685.

[8] Section 2, Rule I, Book VI of the Implementing Rules of the Labor Code provides that "[i]f the termination is brought about by the x x x failure of an employee to meet the standards of the employer in case of probationary employment, it shall be sufficient that a written notice is served the employee, within a reasonable time from the effective date of termination."  To this end, the Court in the assailed Decision pronounced that:
Verily, basic knowledge and common sense dictate that the adequate performance of one's duties is, by and of itself, an inherent and implied standard for a probationary employee to be regularized; such is a regularization standard which need not be literally spelled out or mapped into technical indicators in every case. In this regard, it must be observed that the assessment of adequate duty performance is in the nature of a management prerogative which when reasonably exercised as Abbott did in this case should be respected. This is especially true of a managerial employee like Alcaraz who was tasked with the vital responsibility of handling the personnel and important matters of her department. (Abbot Laboratories, Philippines v. Alcaraz, supra note 1, at 709-710.)
[9] G.R. No. 158693, November 17, 2004, 442 SCRA 573.

[10] G.R. No. 151378, March 28, 2005, 454 SCRA 119.

[11] "Evidently, the sanctions imposed in both Agabon and Jaka proceed from the necessity to deter employers from future violations of the statutory due process rights of employees. In similar regard, the Court deems it proper to apply the same principle to the case at bar for the reason that an employer's contractual breach of its own company procedure albeit not statutory in source has the parallel effect of violating the laborer's rights. Suffice it to state, the contract is the law between the parties and thus, breaches of the same impel recompense to vindicate a right that has been violated. Consequently, while the Court is wont to uphold the dismissal of Alcaraz because a valid cause exists, the payment of nominal damages on account of Abbott's contractual breach is warranted in accordance with Article 2221 of the Civil Code." (Abbot Laboratories, Philippines v. Alcaraz, supra note 1, at 715-716.)

[12] G.R. No. 185829, April 25, 2012, 671 SCRA 186.

[13] Rollo, pp. 19-21, 78, and 80-81.

[14] Philippine Commercial Industrial Bank v. Cabrera, G.R. No. 160368, March 30, 2005, 454 SCRA 792, 803.


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