IN THE EXERCISE OF ITS VISITORIAL AND ENFORCEMENT POWERS, MAY THE DOLE DETERMINE THE EXISTENCE OF AN EMPLOYER-EMPLOYEE RELATIONSHIP TO THE EXLCUSION OF THE NLRC?
Yes. Under Art. 128(b) of the Labor Code, as amended by RA 7730, the DOLE is fully empowered to make a determination as to the existence of an employer-employee relationship in the exercise of its expanded visitorial and enforcement power. And this determination by the DOLE of the existence of an employer-employee relationship is not merely provisional or subordinate to the NLRC’s determination. When the DOLE finds the existence of such relationship, the same is not even subject to NLRC’s review. Instead, DOLE’s determination is directly subject to judicial review. However, it bears emphasis that if the DOLE finds that no such relationship exists or the same has been terminated, jurisdiction is with the NLRC.
In its Resolution PEOPLE’S BROADCASTING SERVICE (BOMBO RADYOPHILS., INC.) vs. SECRETARY OF DOLE, G.R. No. 179652, March 6, 2012, the Supreme Court, en banc, modified its earlier decision as follows:
The prior decision of this Court in the present case accepts such answer, but places a limitation upon the power of the DOLE, that is, the determination of the existence of an employer-employee relationship cannot be co-extensive with the visitorial and enforcement power of the DOLE. But even in conceding the power of the DOLE to determine the existence of an employer-employee relationship, the Court held that the determination of the existence of an employer-employee relationship is still primarily within the power of the NLRC, that any finding by the DOLE is merely preliminary.
This conclusion must be revisited.
No limitation in the law was placed upon the power of the DOLE to determine the existence of an employer-employee relationship. No procedure was laid down where the DOLE would only make a preliminary finding, that the power was primarily held by the NLRC. The law did not say that the DOLE would first seek the NLRC’s determination of the existence of an employer-employee relationship, or that should the existence of the employer-employee relationship be disputed, the DOLE would refer the matter to the NLRC. The DOLE must have the power to determine whether or not an employer-employee relationship exists, and from there to decide whether or not to issue compliance orders in accordance with Art. 128(b) of the Labor Code, as amended by RA 7730.xxx
xxx The determination of the existence of an employer-employee relationship by the DOLE must be respected. The expanded visitorial and enforcement power of the DOLE granted by RA 7730 would be rendered nugatory if the alleged employer could, by the simple expedient of disputing the employer-employee relationship, force the referral of the matter to the NLRC. The Court issued the declaration that at least a prima facie showing of the absence of an employer-employee relationship be made to oust the DOLE of jurisdiction. But it is precisely the DOLE that will be faced with that evidence, and it is the DOLE that will weigh it, to see if the same does successfully refute the existence of an employer-employee relationship.
If the DOLE makes a finding that there is an existing employer-employee relationship, it takes cognizance of the matter, to the exclusion of the NLRC. The DOLE would have no jurisdiction only if the employer-employee relationship has already been terminated, or it appears, upon review, that no employer-employee relationship existed in the first place.
The Court, in limiting the power of the DOLE, gave the rationale that such limitation would eliminate the prospect of competing conclusions between the DOLE and the NLRC. The prospect of competing conclusions could just as well have been eliminated by according respect to the DOLE findings, to the exclusion of the NLRC, and this We believe is the more prudent course of action to take.
This is not to say that the determination by the DOLE is beyond question or review. Suffice it to say, there are judicial remedies such as a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 that may be availed of, should a party wish to dispute the findings of the DOLE.
It must also be remembered that the power of the DOLE to determine the existence of an employer-employee relationship need not necessarily result in an affirmative finding. The DOLE may well make the determination that no employer-employee relationship exists, thus divesting itself of jurisdiction over the case. It must not be precluded from being able to reach its own conclusions, not by the parties, and certainly not by this Court.
As summarized by the Supreme Court, the following are the rules regarding the jurisdiction of the DOLE, NLRC and Labor Arbiter:
To recapitulate, if a complaint is brought before the DOLE to give effect to the labor standards provisions of the Labor Code or other labor legislation, and there is a finding by the DOLE that there is an existing employer-employee relationship, the DOLE exercises jurisdiction to the exclusion of the NLRC. If the DOLE finds that there is no employer-employee relationship, the jurisdiction is properly with the NLRC. If a complaint is filed with the DOLE, and it is accompanied by a claim for reinstatement, the jurisdiction is properly with the Labor Arbiter, under Art. 217(3) of the Labor Code, which provides that the Labor Arbiter has original and exclusive jurisdiction over those cases involving wages, rates of pay, hours of work, and other terms and conditions of employment, if accompanied by a claim for reinstatement. If a complaint is filed with the NLRC, and there is still an existing employer-employee relationship, the jurisdiction is properly with the DOLE. The findings of the DOLE, however, may still be questioned through a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.