By Benjamin Pulta

(File photo)

MANILA – The Supreme Court ruled that it is illegal to fire an employee for testing positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa, the High Court’s Third Division ruled that a former overseas Filipino worker’s dismissal from employment is invalid for being discriminatory.

The ruling also entitled the respondent to salaries for the unexpired portion of his two-year employment contract and moral and exemplary damages, among others.

Under Section 49(a) of Republic Act No. (RA) 11166, or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act, it is unlawful for employees to be terminated from work on the sole basis of their HIV status.

The respondent was deployed to Saudi Arabia under a two-year contract through the recruitment agency Bison Management Corporation.

In 2019, the respondent underwent a routine medical exam and was found positive for HIV.

This prompted the foreign employer to terminate his employment, citing Saudi Arabian laws that consider an HIV-positive individual unfit to work.

Upon repatriation to the Philippines, the respondent filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, which was dismissed by the Labor Arbiter.

The National Labor Relations Commission reversed the Labor Arbiter and found Bison, its president, and its foreign recruitment agency liable for illegal dismissal.

The NLRC decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, prompting Bison to go to the Supreme Court.

Since Philippine law prohibits the use of a person’s HIV-positive condition as a ground for dismissal, there was no valid cause to terminate the respondent.

The High Court said if the foreign law stated in the employment contract contradicts Philippine law, morals, good customs, public order, or public policy, the Philippine law shall apply.

“In this case, even if it is proven that Saudi Arabian law prohibits workers who test positive for HIV, RA 11166 takes precedence over it for being against Philippine law.” (PNA)