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Monday, June 17, 2024

Firing employees due to HIV illegal — SC

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The Supreme Court (SC) has declared it illegal to terminate an employee solely for testing positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), citing the law that protects Filipino workers here and abroad.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, the High Court’s Third Division found the respondent’s dismissal as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) invalid for being discriminatory.

The said respondent in October 2017 was deployed to Saudi Arabia as a cleaning laborer under a two-year contract through the recruitment agency Bison Management Corporation.

After working for 15 months, the respondent in January 2019 underwent a routine medical exam and was found positive for HIV. This prompted his foreign employer to terminate his employment, citing Saudi Arabian laws that consider an HIV-positive individual unfit to work.

The respondent was consequently repatriated to the Philippines in February 2019. He then filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, which was dismissed by the Labor Arbiter.

The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) reversed the Labor Arbiter, finding Bison, its president, and foreign recruitment agency Saraja Al Jazirah Contracting Est liable for illegal dismissal. This was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, prompting Bison to go to the Supreme Court.

In a ruling against the employer, the High Tribunal resolved the respondent was illegally dismissed and thus entitled to salaries for the unexpired portion of his employment contract. along with moral and exemplary damages, among others.

Citing Republic Act 11166 or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act, the SC said it is unlawful for employees to be terminated from work on the sole basis of their HIV status. It ruled there was no valid cause to terminate the respondent as Philippine law prohibits the use of a person’s HIV-positive condition as a ground for dismissal.

“Further, if the foreign law stated in the employment contract contradicts Philippine law, morals, good customs, public order, or public policy, then Philippine law shall apply. In this case, even if it is proven that Saudi Arabian law prohibits workers who test positive for HIV, RA 11166 takes precedence over it for being against Philippine law,” the High Court wrote.


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