MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court on Tuesday, August 30, declared that “no-spouse” rules for employees are “discriminatory” unless there is a reasonable business necessity.
The decision marks the end of the more than 10-year legal battle of petitioner Catherine dela Cruz-Cagampan, who was fired from her job at One Network Bank, Incorporated (ONBI) following her marriage to fellow employee Audie Angelo.
The Court did not give merit to the bank’s argument that Cagampan’s marriage to Angelo placed the bank’s funds at risk for embezzlement. An assertion like this, the Court said, must be based on facts and not on mere speculations.
“Friends, lovers, and couples share secrets. Any bank employee may potentially craft elaborate schemes to embezzle the bank’s funds. While a bank must observe high standards of diligence, enforcing an arbitrary no-spouse employment rule that directs the immediate dismissal of an employee who marries a co-worker cannot be justified. That is illegal dismissal,” the Court said.
The SC Second Division ordered Cagampan’s reinstatement to her former position at the bank.
The SC set aside the Court of Appeals’ (CA) July 2014 ruling, which reversed the National Labor Relations Commission’s (NLRC) findings that ONBI illegally dismissed Cagampan.
The Court ordered respondent ONBI to pay Cagampan her backwages, her proportionate 13th month pay for 2010, allowances, and other benefits or their monetary equivalent from the time she was illegally dismissed on February 17, 2010.
Cagampan is also entitled to attorney’s fees of 10% of the total monetary award, subject to legal interest at the rate of 6% per annum from the finality of the decision until full payment, the Court said.
Details of the case
Based on court records, Cagampan married her co-worker, loan specialist Angelo, on October 31, 2009 – five years after ONBI hired her as an accounting specialist.
A few days later after their wedding, on November 4, 2009, the couple requested permission from ONBI president Alex Buenaventura to continue working for the bank, as other couples in the office had been doing so as well.
ONBI’s policy states that, “when two employees working for One Network Bank are subsequently married through Church or Civil Court rites, one must terminate employment immediately after marriage.”
The couple suggested that Angelo be transferred to another ONBI branch. But bank management denied the request, and Cagampan was terminated.
Cagampan asked the bank to reconsider as the company’s no-spouse policy became effective after she was employed. She argued that it could not be applied to her case.
She also stressed that the policy goes against Article 134 of the Labor Code, which prohibits practices that discriminate against marriage.
ONBI stood by its decision, prompting Cagampan to file an illegal dismissal case with the NLRC.
The NLRC eventually declared that Cagampan was illegally dismissed. The quasi-judicial agency ordered ONBI to reinstate her.
ONBI elevated the case to the CA, which reversed the NLRC decision. The appellate court said ONBI’s policy was a valid exercise of the management’s prerogative.
The CA said that since the bank must observe the highest degree of diligence in handling its affairs, the policy was necessary to protect its clients’ confidential information, and minimize risks from married co-employees, who have privileged communication.
But in its reversal of the CA’s decision, the Supreme Court said that under the Magna Carta of Women, the state commits to eliminate discrimination against women, and ensures their right to freely choose a spouse.
The Court said that in implementing its no-spouse policy, ONBI decided to terminate Cagampan but retained her husband.
“To stress, they opted to terminate petitioner’s employment sans any reason why she must leave, in lieu of her husband. An employer’s dismissal of a female employee solely because of her marriage is precisely the discrimination that the Labor Code expressly prohibits. This Court cannot countenance respondents’ unlawful act,” the Court said.
The High Tribunal also reminded employers that while they may have discretion in managing internal affairs, “their exercise of this right to management prerogative must be in accord with justice and fair play.”
The Court also said that ONBI failed to show the reasonable business necessity for the no-spouse policy, as it was not related to the bank’s essential business operations.
“It unduly discourages all employees from marrying a fellow worker at the pain of termination,” the SC said. – Rappler.com