Philippines: Is failure to disclose a previous employment a just cause for the termination of an employment?

With the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic lifted, people are on the lookout for employment opportunities. Employers are in search of capable employees who can contribute to the recovery and growth of the company. Screening job applicants is a crucial step to ensure that the right person for the job is hired. But what if prior to new employment, the employee fails to disclose his or her previous employment? Is such omission a just cause for termination?

In Nancy Claire Pit Celis v. Bank of Makati (A Savings Bank), Inc. (G.R. No. 250776, June 15, 2022), the Supreme Court ruled that it may not be a just cause for the termination of an employment.

The employee in this case was hired, in 2013, as an Account Officer for the Bank of Makati’s Pasay City Branch. In 2017, the employer discovered that the employee was previously employed in the Rural Bank of Placer, Surigao del Norte, and was involved in a case involving embezzlement of funds. The employee did not disclose this previous employment in her job application. Acting on this information, the employer proceeded to terminate her employment on the following grounds: [a] violation of the employer’s Code of Conduct and Discipline (for knowingly giving false or misleading information in applications for employment as a result of which employment is secured); and [b] serious misconduct, fraud or willful breach of trust, and loss of confidence under Article 297 of the Labor Code.

The Labor Arbiter and the National Labor Relations Commission ruled in the employee’s favor, finding that she did not violate the employer’s Code of Conduct because withholding information in her job application supposedly does not amount to giving false or misleading information. On the other hand, the Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of the labor tribunals and ruled that the employee’s act of not disclosing information on her previous employment was, in effect, giving false information.

On appeal, the Supreme Court held that the employee’s omission in indicating her past employment was not tantamount to giving false information in her job application with the employer. Considering the different interpretations on the Code of Conduct adopted by the lower tribunals and the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court’s decision was anchored on the Constitutional policy of “giving protection to labor and resolving doubtful labor provisions or contracts in favor of workers”. The Supreme Court ruled that in order for there to be a violation of “giving false or misleading information” under the employer’s Code of Conduct, there must be an overt or positive act, such as providing false information in the application for employment. Since the employee only omitted her past employment, she could not have violated the said provision. In addition, the Supreme Court found that the penalty of dismissal was too harsh a penalty. It ruled that “there must be a reasonable proportionality between the offense and the penalty.” Given that the case only involves an omission to disclose one’s previous employment in a job application, the termination of employment here cannot be justified.

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