The joint and several liability of the employer or principal was enacted to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Code, principally those on statutory minimum wage. The contractor or subcontractor is made liable by virtue of his or her status as a direct employer, and the principal as the indirect employer of the contractors employees. This liability facilitates, if not guarantees, payment of the workers compensation, thus, giving the workers ample protection as mandated by the 1987 Constitution. This is not unduly burdensome to the employer. Should the indirect employer be constrained to pay the workers, it can recover whatever amount it had paid in accordance with the terms of the service contract between itself and the contractor.

Withal, fairness likewise dictates that the petitioner should not, however, be held liable for wage differentials incurred while the complainants were assigned to other companies. Under these cited provisions of the Labor Code, should the contractor fail to pay the wages of its employees in accordance with law, the indirect employer (the petitioner in this case), is jointly and severally liable with the contractor, but such responsibility should be understood to be limited to the extent of the work performed under the contract, in the same manner and extent that he is liable to the employees directly employed by him. This liability of petitioner covers the payment of the workers performance of any work, task, job or project. So long as the work, task, job or project has been performed for petitioners benefit or on its behalf, the liability accrues for such period even if, later on, the employees are eventually transferred or reassigned elsewhere.

We repeat: The indirect employers liability to the contractors employees extends only to the period during which they were working for the petitioner, and the fact that they were reassigned to another principal necessarily ends such responsibility. The principal is made liable to his indirect employees, because it can protect itself from irresponsible contractors by withholding such sums and paying them directly to the employees or by requiring a bond from the contractor or subcontractor for this purpose.

Similarly, the solidary liability for payment of back wages and separation pay is limited, under Article 106, to the extent of the work performed under the contract; under Article 107, to the performance of any work, task, job or project; and under Article 109, to the extent of their civil liability under this Chapter [on payment of wages].

These provisions cannot apply to petitioner, considering that the complainants were no longer working for or assigned to it when they were illegally dismissed. Furthermore, an order to pay back wages and separation pay is invested with a punitive character, such that an indirect employer should not be made liable without a finding that it had committed or conspired in the illegal dismissal.

The liability arising from an illegal dismissal is unlike an order to pay the statutory minimum wage, because the workers right to such wage is derived from law. The proposition that payment of back wages and separation pay should be covered by Article 109, which holds an indirect employer solidarily responsible with his contractor or subcontractor for any violation of any provision of this Code, would have been tenable if there were proof — there was none in this case — that the principal/employer had conspired with the contractor in the acts giving rise to the illegal dismissal.

Rosewood Processing, Inc. v. Mamon, G.R. No. 116476-84, 21 May 1998

*Comment or feedback: