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What is AWOL and can I be terminated because of it?

September 2, 2018

What is AWOL? AWOL stands for “absence without leave”. Some people go on AWOL with their jobs with the intention of leaving their jobs for good. While some others just need a break and do not necessarily intend to leave their jobs forever. But is AWOL could be a cause for termination of an employee?

It depends.

If it only happens once, for one day, AWOL as a cause for this kind of termination is apparently excessive. However, if it’s an AWOL for say three days and the employee apparently uses this tactic to escape responsibility every once in a while, then, it could be a good cause for termination. There are a lot of factors to consider but all termination of a regular employee in the Philippines must be either rooted on the Labor Code’s:
1. Authorized causes, or
2. Just causes

Let’s be technical a little bit but we shall keep things simple to understand.

AWOL as a ground to terminate employment may be considered as: neglect of duty or could also be an abandonment of work.

Abandonment of work

If the ground used is “abandonment of work”, then the Supreme Court decision on Josan v. Aduna, G.R. No. 190794 must be taken into account. According to the decision, “For abandonment of work to exist, two factors must be present:

(1) the failure to report for work or absence without a valid or justifiable reason; and

(2) a clear intention to sever the employer-employee relationship, with the second element as the more determinative factor being manifested by some overt acts.”

The mere absence of an employee is not sufficient to constitute abandonment of work. It is the employer that has the burden of proof to show the deliberate and unjustified refusal of the employee to resume the latter’s employment without any intention of returning. Hence, the employer must show documents, proof that justifies its claim that it is the employee’s volition and free will to abandon his or her post. It is not presumed. It must be proven by the employer when claimed.

Neglect of duties

In Nissan Motor Phils., Inc. v. Angelo, G.R. No. 164181, September 14, 2011 which was later cited by the Supreme Court in later cases, it was held that, “neglect of duty”, to be a ground for dismissal under Article 282 of the Labor Code, must be both gross and habitual.

Gross negligence implies a want of care in the performance of one’s duties. Habitual neglect imparts repeated failure to perform one’s duties for a period of time, depending on the circumstances. In Cavite Apparel Incorporated vs. Michelle Marquez, February 6, 2013, the Supreme Court stated, “Four absences in her six years of service, to our mind, cannot be considered gross and habitual neglect of duty, especially so since the absences were spread out over a six-month period.”

In the case of Michelle above, her employment with the company has already reached 6 years. She had no derogatory record aside from her four absences (AWOL) spread throughout six months time.

Hence, Michell’s dismissal from work was invalidated by the Court and pronounced Michelle’s dismissal from employment as illegal.

In another case, the Court has held that “A single or isolated act of negligence does not constitute a just cause for the dismissal of the employee.

Suffice it to state that by no stretch of reasoning can the 5 infractions – wearing of an improper uniform, insubordination, and poor performance evaluation – imputed against employee be collectively deemed as gross and habitual negligence.”

For all HR managers out there and employers, please keep this in mind:

“In illegal dismissal cases, the burden of proof is upon the employer to show that the employee’s termination from service is for a just and valid cause. The employer’s case succeeds or fails on the strength of its evidence. It is not on the weakness of that adduced by the employee. This is in keeping with the principle that the scales of justice should be tilted in favor of the employee in case of doubt in the evidence presented.”

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