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GUIDELINES GOVERNING SEAFARERS’ CLAIMS FOR PERMANENT AND TOTAL DISABILITY BENEFITS

In the case of Jebsens’ Maritime Inc., et al. vs. Florvin G. Rapiz (G.R. No. 218871, 11 January 2017), the Supreme Court reiterated the guidelines governing seafarers’ claims for permanent and total disability benefits:

 

  1. The company-designated physician must issue a final medical assessment on the seafarer’s disability grading within a period of 120 days from the time the seafarer reported to him;
  2. If the company-designated physician fails to give his assessment within the period of 120 days, without any justifiable reason, then the seafarer’s disability becomes permanent and total;
  3. If the company designated physician fails to give his assessment within the period of 120 days with a sufficient justification (e.g. seafarer required further medical treatment or seafarer was uncooperative), then the period of diagnosis and treatment shall be extended to 240 days. The employer has the burden to prove that the company-designated physician has sufficient justification to extend the period; and
  4. If the company-designated physician still fails to give his assessment within the extended period of 240 days, then the seafarer’s disability becomes permanent and total, regardless of any justification.

 

The High Court, in the case of Reynaldo Y. Sunit vs. OSM Maritime Services, et al. (G.R. No. 223035, 27 February 2017), added the following guidelines:

 

  1. If the seafarer disagrees with company-designated physician’s final medical assessment on the seafarer’s disability grading within a period of 120 days or 240 days extended period from the time the seafarer reported to him, the seafarer has the right to engage the services of a doctor of his choice. If the second doctor appointed by the seafarer disagrees with the findings of the company-designated physician, and the company likewise disagrees with the findings of the seafarer’s hired doctor, then a third doctor may be jointly appointed by the employer and the seafarer, whose decision shall be final and binding on both of them;
  2. The third doctor, appointed jointly by the company and the seafarer, is not required to give his medical assessment within the 120/240 day period for assessing the degree of disability of the seafarer. However, similar to what is required of a company-designated physician, the third-party physician must likewise arrive at a “definite and conclusive assessment of the seafarer’s disability or fitness to return to work before his or her opinion can be valid and binding between the parties.”; and
  3. Despite the binding effect of the third doctor’s assessment, a dissatisfied party may institute a complaint with the Labor Arbiter to contest the same on the ground of evident partiality, corruption of the third doctor, fraud, other undue means, lack of basis to support the assessment, or being contrary to law or settled jurisprudence.

 

The Supreme Court, in the same case, likewise held that, “A final and definite disability assessment is necessary in order to truly reflect the true extent of the sickness or injuries of the seafarer and his or her capacity to resume work as such.  Otherwise, the corresponding disability benefits awarded might not be commensurate with the prolonged effects of the injuries suffered.”

 

The High Court finally held, in the said Sunit case, that:

 

“In determining whether a disability is total or partial, what is crucial is whether the employee who suffered from disability could still perform his work notwithstanding the disability he met.  A permanent partial disability presupposes a seafarer’s fitness to resume sea duties before the end of the 120/240-day medical treatment period despite the injuries sustained, and works on the premise that such partial injuries did not disable a seafarer to earn wages in the same kind of work or similar nature for which he was trained.(Belchem Philippines Inc. vs. Zafra Jr., G.R. No. 204845, 15 June 2015, citing Fil-Star Maritime Corp. vs. Rosete, G.R. No. 192686, 23 November 2011)”

 

“ . . .  In disability compensation, it is not the injury which is compensated, but rather it is the incapacity to work resulting in the impairments of one’s earning capacity.(Eyana vs. Tansmarine Carriers, Inc., et al., G.R. No. 193468, 28 January 2015)”

 

REINSTATEMENT WITHOUT BACKWAGES

 

We have often heard of decisions of the High Court ordering the reinstatement of dismissed employees and the payment of their backwages from the time of their dismissal up to actual reinstatement.  The basis for such rulings is usually Article 279 of the Labor Code of the Philippines, as amended.

 

The Supreme Court, however, had elucidated on the statutory intent on the matter and nature of the twin remedies of reinstatement and payment of backwages in the case of De Guzman vs. National Labor Relations Commission, et al. (371 Phil 192), viz:

 

“The normal consequences of a finding that an employee has been illegally dismissed are, firstly, that the employee becomes entitled to reinstatement to his former position without loss of seniority rights and, secondly, the payment of back wages corresponding to the period from his illegal dismissal up to actual reinstatement. The rationale therefor is clearly obvious. Reinstatement restores the employee to the position from which he was removed, i.e., to his status quo ante dismissal, while the grant of backwages allows the same employee to recover from the employer that which he lost by way of wages because of his dismissal. These twin remedies of reinstatement and payment of back wages make whole the dismissed employee, who can then look forward to continued employment. These two remedies give meaning and substance to the constitutional right of labor to security of tenure.

However, the two remedies are distinct and separate. Though the grant of reinstatement commonly carries with it an award of back wages, the inappropriateness or non-availability of one does not carry with it the inappropriateness or non-availability of the other. Reinstatement is a restoration to a state from which one has been removed or separated. On the other hand, the payment of backwages is a form of relief that restores the income that was lost by reason of the unlawful dismissal. The award of one is not a condition precedent to an award of another. Backwages may be ordered without ordering reinstatement; conversely, reinstatement may be ordered without payment of back wages.

Thus, in a number of cases, the Court, despite its order of reinstatement or award of separation pay in lieu of reinstatement deemed it appropriate not to award back wages as penalty for the misconduct or infractions committed by the employee.”(371 Phil 192, 273-275).

 

In the recent case of Holcim Philippines Inc. vs. Renante J. Obra (G.R. No. 220998, 08 August 2016), the Supreme Court ruled that a dismissed employee may be reinstated without backwages if the following parameters are present: a) the fact that the dismissal of the employee would be too harsh a penalty; and b)  that the employer was in good faith in terminating the employee.  When the guilt of the employee is substantially established but his dismissal may be too drastic, he may be reinstated without backwages.  Denial of backwages would sufficiently penalize the employee for his infraction.  Furthermore, the good faith of the employer, when clear under the circumstances, may preclude or diminish recovery of backwages.  Only an employee discriminately dismissed is entitled to backpay. (Pepsi-Cola Products Phils. Inc. vs. Molon, 704 Phil. 120, 144-145).