Justice after 12 years for two beach resort workers

Published June 13, 2021, 2:53 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court (SC)

Justice was finally rendered by the Supreme Court (SC) in the case of a husband and wife who complained they were illegally dismissed by the owner of a beach resort more than 12 years ago.

In a decision written by Associate Justice Mario V. Lopez, the SC reversed the Court of Appeals (CA) as it reinstated the ruling handed down by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in favor of couples Pedro D. Dusol and Maricel M. Dusol.

The SC ruled that the NLRC was correct in ordering Emmarck A. Lazo, owner of Ralco Beach, to pay spouses Dusol P30,000 each in nominal damages, separation pay, wage differentials, and 13th month pay from the time of their illegal dismissal in July 2008.

While the SC decision was promulgated on Jan. 20, 2021, a copy was posted at the SC’s website only on June 1, 2021.

In 1993, Pedro started working as the caretaker of Ralco Beach in Cagayan de Oro City. The beach was previously managed by Emmarck’s parents.

As caretaker and only employee, Pedro cleaned, watched, and secured the beach area, cottages, rest house, store, and other properties in the resort. He also entertained guests and occupants of the cottages.

He worked from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, including weekends and holidays, and was given an allowance of P100 per week, which was later increased to P239 in 2001.

In 1995, Pedro was also asked to work in the fishpond business owned by the parents of Emmarck. When the business did not prosper, he continued to work in the beach until he married Maricel in 2001.

Maricel was employed by Emmarck to manage the store in 2007. She was paid P1,000 a month and 15 percent commission on rentals collected from beach cottages and resthouse. She also worked from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. everyday.

Sometime in July 2008, Emmarck informed Pedro and Maricel that the beach resort will be leased out due to non-profitability. The couple no longer reported for work starting on July 31, 2008.

They filed a complaint for illegal dismissal. In his defense, Emmarck said that Pedro and Maricel were not employees but industrial partners and thus, there was no employer-employee relationship.

On Jan. 26, 2009, the labor arbiter dismissed the complaint for failure to prove that Pedro and Maricel were Emmarck’s employees. Among other issues, the arbiter ruled that there was no proof that “Emmarck controlled or reserved the right to control not only the ends to be achieved, but also the manner they performed their duties.”

On the couples’ appeal, the NLRC reversed the labor arbiter and ruled that Pedro and Maricel were illegally dismissed. Emmarck appealed to the CA which reversed the NLRC and reinstated the labor arbiter’s ruling.

Pedro and Maricel went to the SC.

In resolving the issue, the SC said: “Based on record, there is no proof that a partnership existed between Pedro or Maricel, and Emmarck in relation to the beach resort. No documentary evidence was submitted by Emmarck to even suggest a partnership.”

It said that “the records show that all the elements of an employer-employee relationship are present.”

“Ralco Beach engaged the services of Pedro as caretaker and Maricel as a storekeeper. While Emmarck did not personally engage the services of Pedro, he nonetheless retained his services,” the SC said.

It pointed out: “Emmarck paid their wages in the form of allowances and commissions. The term ‘wages’ encompasses ‘the remuneration or earnings, however designated, capable of being expressed in terms of money, whether fixed or ascertained on a time, task, piece, or commission basis, or other method of calculating the same, which is payable by an employer to an employee under a written or unwritten contract of employment for work done or to be done, or for services rendered or to be rendered.’”

It also said that “Emmarck terminated their employment when he notified them that he will be leasing the beach resort, and that their services were no longer needed.”

The SC also said:

“Finally, and most importantly, Emmarck had the power to control their conduct in the performance of their duties. The existence of control is manifestly shown by Emmarck’s express admission that he left the entire business operation of the Resort to Pedro and Maricel.

“While Pedro and Maricel are to a large extent allowed to carry out their respective duties as caretaker and store keeper on their own, this does not negate the existence of control. It was Emmarck himself, who gave Pedro and Marice! immense flexibility in the performance of their duties.

“This, alone, clearly shows that Emmarck had control over the conduct of Pedro and Maricel in performing their duties. The apparent high latitude of freedom is to be expected given that Pedro and Maricel were the only employees, and this is coupled with the apparent lackadaisical attitude of Emmarck in the management of the resort.

“Thus, even if Emmarck claims that he did not control nor supervise their performance of duties -which may indicate lack of control -Emmarck’s admission reveals that control resided upon him.

“Thus, contrary to the findings of the CA, the lack of guidelines or limitations, and close supervision as to the conduct of operations of the resort cannot be construed as evidence of lack of control.

“To recall, Emmarck admits that Pedro and Maricel have rendered services in the beach resort – but he miserably failed to substantiate his claim that they were his partners. Thus, their relationship can only be characterized as employment.”