Almirante: Entitlement to service incentive leave pay

Dominador Almirante

RESPONDENT Virgilio O. Villastique was hired by petitioner HSY Marketing Ltd., Co. as a field driver tasked to deliver ready-to-wear items and/or general merchandise. He filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with money claims against petitioner, for allegedly withholding his salary for his refusal to resign.

The Labor Arbiter (LA) dismissed the charge of illegal dismissal, finding no evidence to substantiate respondent’s claim that he was dismissed from his job. He, however, awarded among others, service incentive leave pay for P16,418.75, pointing out that respondent was a field driver who regularly performed work outside the petitioner’s place of business and whose hours of work could not be ascertained with reasonable certainty; and that petitioner had failed to present the payroll or pay slips to prove that respondent was paid such benefit.

The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) affirmed the finding of the LA. The Court of Appeals (CA), in turn, affirmed in toto the resolution of the NLRC. Petitioner imputes error, in among others, the award of service incentive leave pay.

Is there merit to this contention?

Ruling: No.

While petitioner should not be adjudged liable for separation pay, the Court nonetheless sustains the award of service incentive leave pay in favor of respondent, in accordance with the finding of the CA that respondent was a regular employee of petitioner and is, therefore, entitled to such benefit. As the CA aptly pointed out:

Respondent is not a field personnel as defined above because of the nature of his job as a company driver. Expectedly, respondent is directed to deliver the goods at a specified time and place and he is not given the discretion to solicit, select, and contact prospective clients. Respondent in his Position Paper claimed that he was required to report for work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the company’s store located at Velez-Gomez St., Cagayan de Oro City. Certainly, then, respondent was under the control and supervision of petitioners. Respondent, therefore, is a regular employee whose task is usually necessary and desirable to the usual trade and business of the company. Thus, he is entitled to the benefits accorded to regular employees, including service incentive leave pay.

The Court has already held that company drivers who are under the control and supervision of management officers - like respondent herein - are regular employees entitled to benefits including service incentive leave pay. “Service incentive leave is a right which accrues to every employee who has served ‘within 12 months, whether continuous or broken reckoned from the date the employee started working, including authorized absences and paid regular holidays unless the working days in the establishment as a matter of practice or policy, or that provided in the employment contracts, is less than 12 months, in which case said period shall be considered as one (1) year.’ It is also commutable to its money equivalent if not used or exhausted at the end of the year. In other words, an employee who has served for one (1) year is entitled to it. He may use it as leave days or he may collect its monetary value.”

Petitioner, as the employer of respondent, and having complete control over the records of the company, could have easily rebutted the said monetary claim against it by presenting the vouchers or payrolls showing payment of the same. However, since petitioner opted not to lift a finger in providing the required documentary evidence, the ineluctable conclusion that may be derived therefrom is that it never paid said benefit and must, perforce, be ordered to settle its obligation to respondent. (Perlas-Bernabe, J.; SC 1st Division, HSY Marketing Ltd., Co. vs. Virgilio O. Villastique, G.R. No. 219569, Aug 17, 2016).

(Almirante is a former labor arbiter.)