The Supreme Court has ruled that sleeping while on duty constitutes serious misconduct and is a valid ground for termination of employment.

In the case of Tomada vs. RFM Corporation-Bakery Flour Division, et al, G.R. No. 163270, September 11, 2009, the Court emphasized that sleeping on the job and leaving work area reflect a regrettable lack of concern for the employer. It was also pointed out that it is not merely a disregard of the company rule, but is also an open invitation for others to violate those same company rules.

The employee in this case, Tomada, was a headspoutman of RFM. On the evening of the incident, he was assigned at the second floor and was in-charge of the bran grinding machine. On that same evening, a fire broke-out from the bran grinding machine because it was left unattended while bran was being grounded. The thick smoke coming out of the bran grinding machine caught the attention of several employees, who then helped contain the fire. Meanwhile, Tomada was nowhere to be found in the area when the fire broke out. He was later found by one of his co-employee sleeping soundly inside the air-conditioned screen room, on top of two units of automatic voltage regulators (AVR).

By reason of the above incident, Tomada was terminated from service and was stripped of all benefits that he would have been otherwise entitled to, which is significant considering his 20 years of service in the company. This prompted him to file a case for illegal dismissal.

At the labor arbiter level, Tomada’s dismissal from service was upheld. The Labor Arbiter found that Tomada was grossly remiss in performing his assigned duties.

On appeal, the NLRC affirmed the labor arbiter, but modified the judgment giving Tomada separation pay under the doctrine of compassionate justice. The NLRC noted that the cause of Tomada’s dismissal was not reflective of his moral character.

The ruling of the NLRC was materially affirmed by the Court of Appeals, including the award of separation pay, particularly giving weight to Tomada’s 20 years of service and the fact that it was his first offense.

When the case ultimately reached the Supreme Court, the consistent ruling of the courts below as to the legality of the dismissal was upheld, but the separation pay based on compassionate justice was disallowed or removed. The court ruled that while Tomada’s nearly two decades of service might generally be considered for some form of financial assistance to shield him from the effects of his termination, he is not worthy of such treatment as his acts reflect a regrettable lack of concern for his employer. Mitigation of the penalty of dismissal in this case would be awarding disloyalty, distorting in the process the meaning of social justice and undermining the efforts of labor to cleanse its ranks of undesirables.

The Court also played down Tomada’s plea of “first offense,” or lack of prejudice to the company.

Last Edited: Thursday, February 18, 2010

Caveat: Subsequent court and administrative rulings, or changes to, or repeal of, laws, rules and regulations may have rendered the whole or part of this article inaccurate or obsolete.
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