Serious Misconduct

Serious misconduct, according to Article 282 of the Labor Code, is one of the just causes for termination of an employee by an employer. The question, however, is: What precisely is meant by serious misconduct? The Supreme had occasion to discuss the matter of serious misconduct in the very recent consolidated cases of MICHAEL J. LAGROSAS vs. BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB (PHIL.), INC., et al. (G.R. No.l68637) and BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB (PHIL.), INC./MEAD JOHNSON PHIL., vs. COURT OF APPEALS and MICHAEL J. LAGROSAS (G.R. No. 170684) both promulgated just a week ago (i.e., September 12, 2008).

Lagrosas was employed by Bristol-Myers as a Territory Manager in its Medical Sales Force Division. His former girlfriend, Ma. Dulcinea S. Lim, was also a Territory Manager. On February 4, 2000 Lim attended a meeting of territory managers at McDonald’s Alabang Town Center. After the meeting she dined out with her friends. She left her car at McDonald’s and rode with Cesar R. Menquito, Jr. (presumably her new boyfriend). When they returned to McDonald’s Lagrosas approaced them and hit Menquito with a metal steering wheel lock. When Lim tried to intervene, Lagrosas accidentally hit her head. Bristol-Myers subsequently dismissed Lagrosas, having determined that he was guilty of serious misconduct.

In the process of resolving the issue of whether or not Lagrosas’s dismissal was legal, the Supreme Court made the following points regarding serious misconduct:

“On the first issue, serious misconduct as a valid cause for the dismissal of an employee is defined simply as improper or wrong conduct. It is a 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 of judgment. To be serious within the meaning and intendment of the law, the misconduct must be of such grave and aggravated character and not merely trivial or unimportant. However serious such misconduct, it must, nevertheless, be in connection with the employee’s work to constitute just cause for his separation. The act complained of must be related to the performance of the employee’s duties such as would show him to be unfit to continue working for the employer.”

It then summarized the elements of serious misconduct as follows:

“Thus, for misconduct or improper behavior to be a just cause for dismissal, it (a) must be serious; (b) must relate to the performance of the employee’s duties; and (c) must show that the employee has become unfit to continue working for the employer.”

On the basis of the foregoing guidelines the Supreme Court concluded that Lagrosas was not guilty of serious misconduct:

First, because the incident occurred outside of the company premises and after office hours.

Second, because Lagrosas intended to hit Menquito only (incidentally, Menquito was not an employee). Although Lagrosas also hit Lim, a fellow employee, he did so only accidentally.

Third, Lagrosas was not performing official work at the time of the incident.

Hence, the Supreme Court failed to see how Lagrosas’ action could have reflected his unfitness to continue working for Bristol Myers.

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