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Manning agency bad faith acts versus seafarers ' impl(y) a conscious and intentional design to do a wrongful act for a dishonest purpose or moral obliquity'

Moral damages in labor cases
ATTY. DENNIS R. GORECHO January 14,2020

Moral damages are awarded to compensate an employee for mental distress that has been caused by the bad faith manner by which they were treated by their employer in relation to their labor claims.

The employee is entitled to moral damages when the employer acted (a) in bad faith or fraud; (b) in a manner oppressive to labor ; or (c) in a manner contrary to morals, good customs, or public policy

Under Article 2217 of the Civil Code, the award of moral damages is anchored on the employee’s actual experiences of physical suffering, mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock, social humiliation, and similar injury.

Though incapable of pecuniary computation, moral damages may be recovered if they are the proximate result of the wrongful act for omission.

No proof of pecuniary loss is necessary as the assessment is left to the discretion of the court according to the circumstances of each case.

Bad faith implies a conscious and intentional design to do a wrongful act for a dishonest purpose or moral obliquity.

In Sharpe Sea Personnel, Inc. v. Mabunay, Jr. (G.R. No. 206113, November 06, 2017), the employer’s bad faith is shown by belatedly releasing and submitting the interim disability rating. It revealed their intention to leave the claimant in the dark regarding his future as a seafarer and forced him to seek diagnosis from private physicians.

By withholding such disability rating from the seafarer, he was compelled to seek out opinion from his private doctors thereby causing him mental anguish, serious anxiety, and wounded feelings, thus, entitling him to moral damages.

The employers’ bad faith was further exacerbated when they tried to invalidate the findings of seafarer’s private physicians, for his supposed failure to move for the appointment of a third-party physician as required by the POEA contract , despite their own deliberate concealment of their physician’s interim diagnosis from the seafarer and the labor tribunals.

The same principle was applied in Orient Hope Agencies, Inc., v. Michael Jara, (G.R. No. 204307, June 06, 2018) where the Supreme Court noted that moral damages would be commensurate to the anxiety and inconvenience suffered by seafarer considering the manner in which the company dealt with his condition.

The company’s bad faith and disregard of the seafarer’s unfortunate plight is evident when they submitted the medical report with disability rating and expressed their willingness to pay disability benefits only upon the filing of the Position Paper with the labor arbiter.

In Career Shipmanagement Phils. Inc. vs. E.J. Godinez (GR 2068261, October 2, 2017, the Court said that the manner in which the seafarer was dealt with in the proceedings evinces a perverse attempt to evade liability by fabricating evidence and utilizing objectionable and oppressive means and schemes to secure victory.

It constitutes an affront, the Court noted, to all honest workingmen earning a living through hard work and risking their lives for their families.

“The Court cringes at the thought, generated by the experience in this proceeding, and in past cases, that, despite all the laws passed and jurisprudence created, to level the playing field for the disadvantaged worker, his plight continues against employers who will stop at nothing to avoid their obligations, by taking advantage at the workers’ weakness, ignorance, financial hardships and other handicaps, or by the cunning of their lawyers,” the Supreme Court said.

In Cutanda v. Marlow Navigation Phils. (G.R.. No. 219123, September 11, 2017) moral damages were awarded because the company discontinued, in evident bad faith, the seafarer’s much needed rehabilitation treatment for three (3) to six (6) months more, as recommended by the attending company-designated physician.

In Bright Maritime Corp. vs. Fantonial, (G.R. No. 165935, February 8, 2012) , the employer’s act was tainted with bad faith considering that the seafarer’s Medical Certificate stated that he was fit to work on the day of his scheduled departure, yet he was not allowed to leave allegedly for medical reasons.

In dismissal cases, Justice Marvic Leonen noted that moral damages are appropriate as unemployment “brings untold hardships and sorrows on those dependent on the wage-earner. The deprivation of economic compensation caused mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, and wounded feelings” . (Montinola vs PAL (G.R. No. 198656 September 8, 2014).