Wednesday, September 22, 2004

INQ reads a Supreme Court decision on Work and Love

The Inquirer reports a recent Supreme Court decision upholding a pharmaceutical company's rule that prohibits its employees from marrying employees of a competitior. The Inquirer slants the lead of the story in a manner that makes the Supreme Court sound very anti-labor -- quite irresponsible of the Inquirer, I believe -- but the decision is consistent with law and jurisprudence.

The Labor Code provides that "(a)n employer may terminate an employment for any of the following causes: (a) ... willful disobedience by the employee of the lawful orders of his employer or representative in connection with his work..." (Art. 282)
If you break it down to its elements, these elements are the following: 1) an employee disobeys the rule; 2) the disobedience is something that the employee desired and not by some other third party cause; and 3) the rule is reasonably connected with the employee's work.

No problem with elements 1 and 2. The issue is number 3. The essence of the rule has to do with the time-honored value of preventing "conflicts-of-interest" between the personal and the professional lives of an employee. If an employee marries somebody from a competitor, chances are he will be exchanging trade secrets with his spouse over breakfast. Further, the employee's loyalty will surely be in question, especially so that the success of the competitor will bring him indirect benefits through the spouse who works for the other side. In the case of the couple employed with competing pharmaceutical companies, they could even get into debates such as which cough syrup will they give their son. The situation is awkard for all concerned. That's why the rule is reasonable, and no doubt it is relevant to employment.

But what does my favorite newspaper do? Spin off the story as if it were an epic battle between love and economic interest, to which the mighty Supreme Court decides in favor of economic interest. Geez, to me it's really just a story about a man, who after marrying the girl of his dreams, still wants to keep his job.

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