As in every human relationship, there are bound to be disagreements. In an employer-employee relationship, strong words may sometimes be exchanged as the employer describes expectations and/or as the employee narrates the conditions of the work environment and the obstacles encountered during task accomplishment. Sometimes, when these strong words from the employer are said without palpable reason or are expressed only to degrade the dignity of the employee, then a hostile work environment will be created.
Nevertheless, the unreasonably harsh conditions that compel resignation on the part of an employee must be way beyond the occasional discomforts brought about by the misunderstandings between the employer and employee. (Bayview Management Consultants, Inc. v. Pre, G. R. No. 220170, 19 August 2020)
But how can one determine if an employee’s resignation was of his own volition or affected by the employer’s supposed hostile treatment?
In the case of Pascual v. Sitel Philippines Corp. et al. (G.R. No. 240484, 9 March 2020), Sitel served a notice to explain upon the employee for his failure to act on the case of an agent who has been inactive for a few months which resulted in Sitel’s losses. Eventually, Sitel suspended him for five days and deducted amounts from his salary corresponding to his unauthorized absences.
The employee requested clarification but to no avail. This prompted him to send an e-mail manifesting his intention to resign, but thereafter, the employee filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, alleging that he was merely compelled to resign.
In holding that the resignation was voluntary, the Supreme Court explained that the acts of the employee before and after the alleged resignation must be considered in determining whether the employee concerned, in fact, intended to terminate his employment. In Pascual’s case, the Court observed that the employee submitted his resignation letter on four occasions, which proves his desire to leave the company as opposed to his allegation of coercion on the part of Sitel.
Compare this with the case of Bayview v. Pre, where Pre was initially hired as a legal officer but was subsequently given an additional assignment as a customer service representative. Since the CSR task was far from a managerial job, Pre suggested a different procedure, which elicited an adverse reaction from her supervisor, calling her stupid and incompetent: “No, you don’t know anything stupid, stupid, I don’t care about what you say, if you do not accept this project… then resign, we do not need you here.”
Here, the Court found several instances of disdain and hostile actions committed against Pre, which degraded her dignity and eventually led her to file a case for constructive illegal dismissal.
First, she was assigned to work as a customer service representative, a function fit for a rank-and-file employee, while she already held the position of corporate affairs manager as head of human resources and legal departments. Second, the words of her supervisor are demeaning, degrading, and disrespectful to Pre’s dignity.
Third, she was asked to resign on more than one occasion and then taken back as she was told to stay in the company. Thereafter, the company readily offered her financial assistance or separation pay. Fourth, after the employer took back their resignation offer and Pre was assured that she could keep her job, the management treated Pre indifferently. The Court then held that acts of disdain and hostile behavior such as demotion, insulting words, asking for resignation, and apathetic conduct towards an employee constitute constructive illegal dismissal.
To sum up, filing a resignation letter does not necessarily mean the resignation was voluntary. The employee’s subsequent and contemporaneous actions must be considered in determining whether he intended to sever his employment or was just forced to do so because of the circumstances surrounding his employment.