Dubai: A Filipina expat was terminated by her employer after her story seeking help from readers to pay for house rent and to buy food during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was recently published by Gulf News.
The story of Corazon Tarcena, 54, went online on May 14. Many readers offered help and she managed to collect enough money to pay her landlord and buy some food. But three days later, when she returned to work on Sunday (May 17), she was handed a termination letter because of the story.
In the letter, the general manager of the company, where Tarcena worked for almost 12 years, said her employment has ended on that day.
Quoting the termination letter verbatim, the general manager, said: “The company warned you before and second warning again issued this is in line with the article written in Gulf News specific article make (sic) unfair and damaging image since you know the company is making all of his (sic) effort to help and extend effort for the benefit of his (sic) employees.”
Gulf News never mentioned the name of company in the story.
Tarcena saw no violation in asking help from other people especially in times of crisis and she said she has never put her company’s name in a bad light.
But she feared further repercussion after it was mentioned in the termination letter: “The company warned you again and reiterate that no such issue should be put again into writing in newspaper or other form in social media.”
Barney Almazar, who holds a UAE legal consultancy license and director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law, said the Tarcena’s termination was outright illegal. There was no prior warning and the publication of her story was not a ground for termination.
Almazar explained to Gulf News: “Under Article 122 of the UAE Labour Law, an employee is deemed arbitrarily dismissed if the cause for such termination has nothing to do with the work.”
“Based on a UAE jurisprudence, a termination is deemed ‘valid’ if it complies with the twin requirements of (1) due process and (2) valid ground. Due process requires the employee to be properly notified and given opportunity to be heard,” he added.
Almazar underlined, in the case of Tarcena, “the reason for summary termination was due to the employee being interviewed by Gulf News regarding her personal experience, which was completely outside her work.”
“The right of the employer to discipline its employees is limited within the premises of the company only. In fact, under paragraph 7 of Article 120, a court judgment is required before an employee can be summarily terminated for misconduct done outside of work,” he further explained.
“Even if the interview was about the company and the employee was not authorised to do so, it will not warrant an immediate termination unless the employee has disclosed confidential information (paragraph 6 of Article 120). At most, this can be a ground for disciplinary action such as warning or suspension,” Almazar pointed out.
Compensation for Corazon
Almazar, who conducts free legal aid at the Philippine missions in the UAE, added: “If the employee has been arbitrarily dismissed, the court has the jurisdiction to give judgment against the employer for payment of compensation to the employee.”
“The court shall determine the amount of this compensation, taking into consideration the nature of work sustained by the employee, period of service and after investigation of dismissal circumstances. Provided that in all cases the amount of compensation should not exceed the employee’s pay for a period of three months, to be worked out on the basis of last pay due to him (Article 123 of the Labour Law),” he continued.
Upon further study of Tarcena’s case, Almazar said: “Based on the employee’s story, it appears that it was in fact her company which has violated the law. Her salary was reduced and she was put on a “no work, no pay” scheme without her written consent, contrary to Ministerial Resolution Number 279/2020 issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE).
General manager's response
Gulf News sought the side of the company general manager (GM). The GM said Tarcena “lied when she said she did not receive her salary.”
However, the “salary” mentioned by the GM was not the full salary but only the housing allowance that was paid to Tarcena, who got only Dh1,050. Tarcena was not paid basic salary (Dh2,100) and given transport allowance (Dh350). The cut was around 70 per cent of her supposed gross monthly income.
The GM said Tarcena was not paid full salary because she did not work during the lockdown. Tarcena, in the previous Gulf News report, said she understood the financial situation and never blamed her company.
“I cannot even blame my employers. I know there was barely any business, I understand what is in our business account. How can they pay me?”, she said earlier, which prompted her to ask for help from GN readers.
An irate GM, however, told Gulf News that the story has given bad image to the company. The GM said: “Write again and I will demand (file a case against) GN. I will immediately go to the police and file a case against you – because you write about the company.”
As for Tarcena, she said she only wants to get what is due to her. “I don’t want trouble but I hope my company will pay my gratuity so at least I will have something to start life all over again.” Almazar added: “Balancing the rights of an employer on one hand and the employee on the other is complex even during normal times, what more during this pandemic. Now, more than ever, both employees and employers should act in solidarity and good faith.”