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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Does sexual harassment equate to constructive dismissal of an employee? LBC Express vs. Palco explained

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Paul Tena
Paul Tena is an alumnus of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of Politixxx Today and he also traverses into fiction writing in his spare time. Sometimes he goes by his pen name JPE Tena. Now, his debut novel, The Lore Kingdom, is out in the market. For more information, you may reach him via paul.tena@politixxx.today or tenajpe@gmail.com.

A harmonious working environment is a must for an employee to stay with his, or in this case, her employer. Otherwise, there will be an inevitable cessation of employer-employee relationship once the fundamental mandate of the law is violated. Let’s dive into the details of the case of LBC Express vs. Palco.

The antecedents

The respondent Monica Palco, an erstwhile employee of petitioner LBC Express in Cebu, was experiencing an uncomfortable pattern of behavior from his supervisor Arturo Batucan. As summarized in the case penned by Justice Leonen, Batucan’s actions were sexually suggestive. For instance, he would hold Palco’s hand and shoulder. Further, Batucan would also put his hand in the lap of Palco. Worse, he would remove the strap of Palco’s bra and verbalize his fantasies of having a child with Palco.

Due to this disgusting behavior, Palco filed a complaint before the police as well as her employer. Unfortunately, her employer failed to promptly act on the series of incidents that Batucan committed against Palco. Thus, as her patience ran dry, Palco decided to resign from her post. Eventually, she filed a constructive dismissal case against her employer.

What constitutes Constructive Dismissal?

Quoting the earlier case of Hyatt Taxi Services vs. Catinoy, the Supreme Court elaborated: “Constructive dismissal does not always involve forthright dismissal or diminution in rank, compensation, benefit and privileges. There may be constructive dismissal if an act of clear discrimination, insensibility, or disdain by an employer becomes so unbearable on the part of the employee that it could foreclose any choice by him except to forego his continued employment.”

Based on the facts of the Palco case, Justice Leonen deemed it fit that, through Batucan’s actions, Palco was constructively dismissed. In fact, in the prefatory statement, Justice Leonen eloquently said: “An employee is deemed constructively dismissed if he or she was sexually harassed by her superior and her employer failed to act on his or her complaint with prompt and sensitivity.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Now, where do we draw the line of sexual harassment in the workplace? The Supreme Court said, “Workplace sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor, or agent of an employer, or any other person who has authority over another in a work environment, imposes sexual favors on another which creates in an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for the latter.”

Unsurprisingly, based on the standard set by the law and the court, Batucan’s actions constituted sexual harassment. The same actuations were intertwined with constructive dismissal since the slowness of action of their employer forced Palco to remove herself from her work.

A fair warning

Be it noted that the defense consistently held by Batucan was that he was only joking. This must serve as a warning to all employees that such behavior is far from a laughable matter and actually consists as an unlawful act. We must learn to respect our co-workers no matter what or else any misconduct will be dealt with proper sanctions as imposed by law.

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