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HIV-related employment termination illegal, says Supreme Court of the Philippines

The Supreme Court of the Philippines released a ruling that it is illegal to fire an employee solely for testing positive for HIV. Even if a foreign law stated in any employment contract contradicts Philippine law, morals, good customs, public order, or public policy, the Philippine law shall still apply.

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The Supreme Court of the Philippines released a ruling that it is illegal to fire an employee solely for testing positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

This decision – penned by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa from the SC’s Third Division backs Republic Act No. (RA) 11166, or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act; under Section 49(a) of the law, it is unlawful for employees to be terminated from work on the sole basis of their HIV status.

This decision stemmed from the case filed by a certain AAA, who – in October 2017 – was deployed to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as a cleaning laborer under a two-year contract through the recruitment agency Bison Management Corporation (Bison).

After working for 15 months, AAA underwent a routine medical exam and was found positive for HIV in January 2019. AAA’s foreign employer terminated his employment, citing KSA laws that consider an HIV-positive individual unfit to work. He was then repatriated to the Philippines in February 2019.

In the Philippines, AAA filed a complaint for illegal dismissal.

Initially, his case was dismissed by the Labor Arbiter, but the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) reversed the earlier decision, and found Bison, its president, and its foreign recruitment agency Saraja Al Jazirah Contracting Est, liable for illegal dismissal. When the NLRC decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, Bison went to the SC, which led to the February 2024 decision (even if it was only made public now).

For the SC, 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 AAA.

According to the SC:

  • AAA was illegally dismissed.
  • AAA is entitled to salaries for the unexpired portion of his employment contract and moral and exemplary damages, among others.

The SC also stressed that even if a foreign law stated in any employment contract contradicts Philippine law, morals, good customs, public order, or public policy, the Philippine law shall still apply. In this case, “even if it is proven that KSA law prohibits workers who test positive for HIV, RA 11166 takes precedence over it for being against Philippine law.”

The full text of G.R. No. 256540, Bison Management Corporation v. AAA and Pernito (February 14, 2024) is available HERE.

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