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The unfair workplace practices everyone should know about

They say that it is only during the hardest times that you get to see people (and businesses) true selves – and 2020 is indeed a hard time.

That said, let it be known that the ‘true self’ of a business is to make as much profit as possible…by selling lots of products/services, and of course cutting costs.

Employee welfare? It is likely secondary.

That said, most employers will treat their employees fairly. Some even go the extra mile to help them out. But as with everything in life, not all employers are created equal.

In light of that, we’ve spoken to the folks at NTUC who are experts in this sort of thing, and they’ve given us some scenarios you might wanna look out for + how to deal with them.

Disguised Retrenchments

Under the Employment Act in Singapore, employees are eligible for retrenchment benefits if they’ve been working for at least two years. The norm for retrenchment compensation is 2 weeks to 1 month’s salary per year of service.

That said, the word is eligible, not mandatory, so you need to check your contract for it. It’s also worth noting that most employment contracts are silent on retrenchment benefits.

Anyway, one way companies may try to get around this is by not officially retrenching you, but rather get you to resign on your own accord.

Why employers do this:

If a company is already cash strapped, they may try to avoid paying you retrenchment benefits. In addition, retrenchment is a sign that the company is not doing well – they get to avoid bad press.

Tell-tale signs

  • Emphasizing that retrenchment/termination looks bad on your resume, so you should resign instead
  • You have good performance reviews until the latest one, which says you suck
  • Terminating you at ‘one month’s notice’, which according to many employment contracts, allows them to avoid paying out retrenchment benefits

Denying re-employment for older workers

A lot of people who read this blog are Zoomers and Millennials, but we’d thought we’d throw this in because you might have a parent/relative/older friend in their 60s.

You see, the retirement age in Singapore is 62, yes – but employers must offer re-employment to employees all the way till 67 with at least an annual employment contract, if they meet the criteria (which is honestly not that hard to meet)
There have been cases where employers see older folks as liabilities, and find ‘creative’ ways to push them out of the company – much like disguised retrenchment – though with older folks who don’t really care what their resume might look like, the tactics might be different:

Why employers do this:

Older employers are often perceived as not productive or open to learning as compared to younger ones. From this POV, the company saves by not spending on supposed ‘suboptimal’ employees.

Tell-tale signs:

  • Reducing their salary to a point until a point it becomes unacceptable
  • Getting them to do a medical check up, and then using medical reasons to dismiss them
  • Managing them out by putting them in humiliating scenarios (i.e. excluding them from meetings)

Ejecting new mothers and mothers-to-be

Is your boss suddenly very interested in whether you’re going to be a mother? would your boss care about whether you’re going to have kids?

Well, the best-case scenario is that they care deeply about you and your family planning. The worst is that they’re trying to suss out details to see if you’re the target of their next cost cutting measure.

Why employers do this:

Maternity benefits here include paid leave of 12 to 16 weeks. Of course, this is about 3-4 months of downtime for an employee, which can be quite expensive for the company.

To make matters worse, moms might also be viewed by some employers as less productive employees, as the impression is that they’ll prioritise their family, instead of focusing on their careers.

Tell-tale signs:

  • Being made redundant after telling them you are pregnant
  • Intentionally not making accommodations for you at work
  • Saying that the job no longer exists after you return from maternity

What you can do:

In Singapore, a pregnant employee has maternity protection if she has been at her job for at least 3 continuous months and cannot be let go on those grounds.

BONUS: Anyhowly changing the terms of your employment

Contrary to popular belief, workplace conflict doesn’t always lead to dismissal. It’s completely possible that you keep your job; albeit have your working conditions deteriorate somewhat.
Maybe these examples might sound familiar to you:

  • Using WFH to justify you taking no-pay leave or even a pay cut.
  • Changing working hours or reducing staff benefits without prior agreement
  • Delaying or withholding salary or CPF contributions
  • Transferring you to another department with a lower salary

Why employers do this:

A wide range of reasons, but saving cost is usually at the heart of it. In some cases, your employer might even be trying to keep you, instead of having you made redundant, but have failed to communicate this with you.

Of course, there may be justifiable reasons that you’d be asked to take a pay cut during COVID-19. What is not reasonable, however, is if the employer does so without any discussion with you.

In such scenarios, you’ve a few options. Here are them in escalating order.

Settle issues internally:

This is usually the preferred option for everyone because it burns the least bridges. Many companies have grievance procedures to guide the escalation of workplace issues, i.e. raise the issue to your supervisor, if it fails, approach the HR, etc etc.

Gather your evidence, and build your case about why you’ve been unfairly treated. Very often, just showing awareness of your employee rights will allow you to at least go to the negotiating table.

That said, many Singaporeans can be quite non-confrontational, so this while this is the best option, it might not always be the option we pursue.
In addition, one-to-one negotiations often mean that the outcome depends on your own abilities – which increases the chance of you being short-changed.
PS: In unionised workplaces, you can always seek union’s advice at any point in the grievance procedure.

Outsource the negotiations to a mediator:

If you lack the confidence to do your own negotiating, you can take the case to TADM (Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management), or your Union if you’re in a unionised company.

The thing you’re doing here, is outsourcing the possibly daunting negotiation and mediation to people who have a lot of experience in dealing with these issues.

  • If you go through TADM, they will play middleman between both you and your employer, make sure the agreement is enforced (and will report to MOM on your behalf).
  • If you go through your company’s union, they’ll keep the negotiations within the company. Unions typically have a collective and transparent agreement that they’ll refer to in times like these, so you’ll be better protected.

Pursue legal options:

We hope you never get to this because this is pretty much the nuclear option.

Our (TWS’s) suggestion is first to try the Employer Claims Tribunal first, which specialises in workplace disputes – they provide affordable and cost-efficient legal services.

If that fails and you really, really, really, really, really want to pursue, then you’ll have to proceed with hiring a lawyer and building a civil suit. But this option is terribly expensive and time-consuming, so please consider this very carefully.

If you lose, you’d be liable for both your employer and your own legal fees. Oof.

Know your rights, stand your ground

The worrying thing? We know many Singaporeans who’d shy away from confrontations – our past selves included – because they’d feel bad, or paiseh. It’s terrible because that stops them from receiving precious financial aid and retrenchments benefits that they’re eligible for.

Our advice is that there’s nothing to be paiseh about. Dismissals and pay cuts were tough, and given the current economic climate, they’re even tougher.

Businesses might be suffering yes, but unless you’re the business owner, that’s not for you to worry about.

After all, employees are supposed to work for companies, not suffer for them. There’s a difference. 

Stay woke, Salaryman.

A message from our sponsor, NTUC

It can be challenging to stand up for your rights alone. By joining your company’s union (or helping to unionise your company), you’d be able to have the union represent you to hold your employer accountable by:

  • Making sure employers cannot tweak their employment contracts without consultation with the Union
  • Having a community of workers just like you who proactively look out for unfair or unhealthy practices within the company.

Even if you can’t unionise your workplace, becoming an NTUC Union Member still gives you the following workplace benefits:

  • Online Workplace Advisory – Get assistance on workplace issues and/or employment-related matters via our FREE online service.
  • Personalised Case Management – Get the guidance and support you need, including filing for mediation* as well as job placement assistance.
  • Immediate Assistance – Be served on the same day you walk-in to TADM@NTUC (non-members: appointment required + approximately one week wait).

You can learn more here. 

P.S.: You can enjoy more for less with savings from the array of privileges from the NTUC Union Membership too! From $14.90 NTUC Union Member Buddy Set at Popeyes to 1-For-1 deals at Sentosa, learn more about what you save on when you travel, shop, dine out, and more! Click here to find out more.

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