Here’s a tale I’ve been saving about the company I worked for from 2010 to 2011.
Now some of you will read this and will think to yourself, “That’s nothing, plenty of people have it far worse,” and I won’t dispute that. I’m not one of those people getting docked by their boss for going to the toilet now that HK has a minimum wage law. And I’m not the guy in the circus shoveling elephant shit – though at least that guy is in show business.
The first thing you ought to know is that I started this job on May 3rd, which was a Monday. May 1st was a Saturday, May 2nd a Sunday, and so when they gave me a contract dated May 3rd, I didn’t think anything of it.
The next thing is that almost from the day I started, the CTO (whose cubicle was next to mine) kept suggesting to me that I ought to consider occasionally working from home.
Fast forward a few weeks. It’s almost the end of the month, it’s a Thursday and I’m not feeling great. So around 8:30 AM, I sent out an email to the other managers stating that I wasn’t feeling too well and that I’d be working from home. No one replied to that and I spent the rest of the day in front of the computer at home.
The following week was the end of the month and my first pay check. I opened the pay stub and saw that my check was several thousand dollars less than I was expecting. I went to HR and asked what happened. They told me that since I had not started on the 1st of the month, my check was pro-rated for the month. I reminded them that the 1st and 2nd were weekend days and was told it didn’t matter, my contract was dated May 3rd and so I was pro-rated.
I went to the CEO and asked about this. That’s the policy, I was told. “Fine,” I said, “in that case I’ll be sending you an invoice for the time I spent in April reading all those documents and emails you sent to me to get me up to speed.” With a tone of exasperation in his voice he said, “Okay we’ll back date the contract.”
All settled? Nope. Because when HR came to me with a new cover page for my contract, they also said to me, “Oh, remember that day last week that you worked from home? You’re not allowed to work from home. So it’s a sick day. But you’re on probation so you’re not allowed sick days. So we’re docking your pay next month for that.”
The CEO was squarely behind this. “That’s the policy, no exceptions,” keeping in mind that this was not some 50,000 employee multi-national corporation but a private hundred person company. One might think that a small company like this might be sensitive to the impact this would have and might say, “Okay, you’re new here, it was an honest mistake, don’t let it happen again.” Instead the response I got was, “Well, you said you were working from home and you did answer emails and you did phone in for meetings but you probably weren’t really working the entire day.” And when I said that the CTO had told me it was okay, the response I got was that he doesn’t represent HR and was wrong to tell me it was okay. When I said, “But I sent that email at 8:30 in the morning, why didn’t some write to me that day to tell me that I couldn’t do that,” my response was that they were too busy to keep track of such things.
This is what happens when you work for a company that sees staff as a commodity and not as a resource. Which is to be expected if your company is a fast food place or a supermarket but we’re talking about programmers, artists and designers here.
I probably don’t need to tell you that the next step I took was to update my CV and send it out to every headhunter I knew as well as update my profiles on JobsDB and Monster. Within a few weeks the CEO called me into his office because word had gotten back to him that I was job hunting and that he was disappointed and he pleaded with me to give the company more of a chance.
Here’s how I was rewarded for giving them that chance. Seven months later, after some organizational changes, I was told that since the projects I had been working on were coming to a close and that they didn’t know what other work to assign to me, I was being given three months’ notice. And that there was a possibility that they might put me in charge of another project but that they weren’t really certain if that was going to go forward so they might as well give me notice now and then they might offer me a new contract later. And since they were giving me notice before I’d been there for a year, they wouldn’t be offering me any severance pay.
So at this point I had the option to just take the 3 months salary and go home or continue to work out the three months. I chose the latter option and went to work on the new project. About two months later, I got pretty ill and missed about a week from work. I was home every day, staying on top of email every day, but unable to go into the office. When I received my final paycheck, I was docked somewhere around $20,000 for those sick days. You get that? By continuing to work, by continuing to show up every day, I received $20,000 less than if I’d simply taken the money and stayed home.
The CEO of the company expressed disappointment that I wasn’t “more of a cheerleader” for the company. He also expressed concern that I might post something online that would cast the company in a bad light. I told him that I wouldn’t do that. But more than one year since I’ve left, if anyone calls him and asks him about me, he gives me a bad reference.
As I said up top, I know a lot of people have it far worse. You won’t get any argument from me on that except to say that this is unique within my own personal experience. I also assume that many others working in this company faced similar irrational treatment and share similar feelings, based on the fact that I saw an approximate 50% staff turnover rate in the year I was there.
Of course there are 5 sides to every story. And some of you might comment and say, “If you’d done a better job, they would have found some other way to keep you.” The only way to answer that, unfortunately, would be to post more details about what happened in that year and that’s something I’m not going to do.