Atty. Rami Hourani
Having represented people on both sides of a labor dispute, many of the questions that are fielded to me can cleanly be bisected into two groups: the first, from employers who are looking for someone to represent them in labor disputes; the second, from employees who need to be walked through the process. I’ll discuss a little of the preliminary advice I might give in either of these cases when I am reached out to.
When I advise people who have just lost their jobs what is required is a lot of hand holding. The emotions are often fresh and they feel betrayed for having been let go in a particular way or under certain circumstances. I ask some simple questions about the case and give my candid opinion of the strengths and weaknesses of their case. If their case is strong, I make it a point to tell them. If their case is weak, I make it a point to tell them that too. This latter point is often hard for people to swallow. Everyone is the protagonist of their own lives so breaking it to them gently that their case may not be as strong as it seems is something I take as my responsibility.
The next question though is the process. In the Philippines, there is a complaint that typically the government services respond quite slowly. There is one particular government service that responds rather quickly though. This is the filing of a Request for Assistance by a Single Entry Approach. This is the preliminary legal process that can be availed of by employees to begin a legal action against their employer. Without going into too much detail, what proceeds therefrom is as follows: First, the SENA Mediation, Second, the filing of the Complaint, Third, Mediation before the Labor Arbiter, Fourth, Filing of Position Papers, Fifth, the Decision of the Labor Arbiter. This whole process takes around a year (or two).
If we’re being honest, the only point in the process where your really need a lawyer is the filing of position papers. This is because it is only a lawyer that can wield the law in a legal proceeding with a view towards specific outcomes. However, you would be very foolish to not seek the advice of one before this point in time. It would be prudent to enter into the habit of consulting with a lawyer at each point in the process. This is because the lawyer can crystalize how much you’d be entitled to in a settlement and how much of a discount you should be willing to take to avoid going to a full blown proceeding. Further, if you are unable to settle and get to the point where you are filing a position paper, the lawyer who you consulted with will be in the best position to draw up your position paper.
Employers are typically busy. They have many internal processes that they use to handle matters like employment and labor standards. This means that interfacing with an outside lawyer is difficult and tedious as it represents a hard break with the demands that they face in the day-to-day operation of their business. This tension often means that they will not seek your advice as quickly as they should.
Most however, will be seasoned participants in proceedings before the Labor Arbiter. This is not any judgment upon the employers themselves. Rather, the task of going to DOLE is viewed as just part of their operations. In these scenarios, it is almost always better for employers to settle their disputes as quickly as possible. This is because employment cases have a nasty habit of mushrooming liabilities because of the way that the Labor Code of the Philippines is structured.
Once a Notice of a SENA Mediation has been received though it is important that an employer decide how much he could be held liable for to his employee. There will be professionals in the employer’s own retinue of workers who may be able to compute the amount of liability in simple cases. However, there is a kind of case where the issues may be just too complex for a lay person to come to an intelligent conclusion on.
The determination of the amount of exposure and the creation of an intelligible and reasonable offer of compromise is something the lawyer’s are best suited for in these complex cases. We are particularly useful when the complainant in a labor case has him/herself procured a lawyer of their own because the opposing forces of lawyers advocating against each other will often arrive at a reasonable result. There are also those cases where the employer firmly believes he is in the right and wishes to vindicate himself from a baseless suit to disincentivize similar suits from occurring in the future.
Of the possible narratives that can occur in labor cases, it is the employer’s side of the story that is most difficult to ascribe a general pattern to. I hope that the juxtaposition of these two sides helps you come to understand the competing interests in play in Labor Disputes. I sincerely hope you never need my advice!
Atty. Hourani practices law in Cebu City, Philippines. If you would like to set an appointment with him, you may reach him here.