Fined $1 per minute for being late for work

PHOTO: Fined $1 per minute for being late for work

A 20-year-old who had trouble getting to work on time has complained to the Manpower Ministry that her former employer cut $1 from her pay for every minute she was late.

Then, when she lost an Excel computer file she was working on and did not keep a back-up, the company cut 70 per cent of her $1,500 pay.

13 ridiculous office rules

  • One employee says: 'I can't bring in soda to share with other employees because there is a vending machine.'
  • 'My place of employment only lets staff drink water from small cups, and you must drink the whole cup immediately, then dispose of the cup. You are not allowed to have water bottles on shift, no matter which part of the store you are working in. If you are on break (unpaid time) you cannot purchase a bottle of water, even if you drink all of it and dispose of the bottle before you come back on shift.'
  • 'We are incapable of sending emails from our work accounts without selecting what the email is for. To send it, we have to select from a drop-down menu things like 'casual memo' or 'request for time off'.'
  • Another employee says that the company does not allow employees to move furniture around. 'Want to slide a desk across the room? Can't. That is violating union rules, and taking work away from the facilities team. You have to call and schedule the movers. Then they charge you for it.'
  • An attorney says that his firm makes all employees state exactly where they are headed when they leave the office.
  • 'I used to work for a ritzy cafe that had five separate and distinct beard rules. Beards had to be between a certain length or you had to shave it. No mutton chops. There were rules about mustache/beard combos. If you wanted to grow a beard, you were not allowed back into work for two weeks until you grew it out to a 'respectable length.'
  • 'At my former job we weren't allowed to 'grow' facial hair. So we were allowed to either have no facial hair at all, or have a fully grown moustache. Our manager told us if we wanted to have a moustache, we would have to go on vacation, grow a stash, and come back from our vacation with a fully grown moustache.'
  • One person was fired for carrying boxes in his hands instead of using the dolly to move them.
  • 'I work in a warehouse. No hats. It's cold here in the winter and the poor bald guys can't wear hats.'
  • One employee was warned about the strict no-popcorn rule enforced by the firm's CEO. An email explaining the rule was sent to staff. It said: 'Has anyone ever tried to talk on the phone and eat popcorn?'.
  • 'No cell phone shaped objects in your pockets at work. At first I thought it was a typo, then they started to write people up for wallets, packs of gum, and other rectangular shapes in our pockets.'
  • 'Someone at work sneezed and another one said 'bless you!' A third party heard it and complained to HR about it. Guy who said 'bless you' was given a warning and had to take a course in professionalism.'

She said she refused to accept a pay cheque for just $311 - after deductions for being late and losing the file - but she then went unpaid for two months.

By early April, after receiving repeated "warning letters" chiding her for poor performance, she sent the company an e-mail saying she wanted to quit.

But under the terms of her one-year contract, she would have to pay three months' salary to leave ahead of time.

The company does not deny that it penalised her for being late and losing the computerised file, but claims it did so to make her buck up at work.

She is seeking to recover two months in unpaid wages and deductions for latecoming.

Both sides spoke to The Sunday Times on condition that they are not named, as the case is still before the ministry.

Diploma holder Amanda Lin (name changed) contacted The Sunday Times in the wake of a widely circulated video showing a supervisor at another company repeatedly slapping a young male worker.

Both work in small companies in the IT industry. There are more than 150,000 small and medium-sized companies in Singapore.

"The video made me realise that more young workers may be suffering in silence," said the bespectacled young woman who is now looking for work.

Abusive boss punched, pushed, slapped intern

  • An IT company manager who carried out a campaign of abuse against an intern was yesterday sentenced to a 10-day short detention order.
  • The community sentence is served in prison, but carries no criminal record.
  • A judge said that Lee Yew Nam, 45, the manager of Encore eServices, had used 32-year-old Calvin Chan Meng Hock like a "punching bag" - slapping and hitting him during a string of violent outbursts when he felt his work was not up to standard.
  • He was caught when another intern took a 17-second video of him hitting Mr Chan, and posted it online.
  • Lee was convicted of four charges of causing hurt to Mr Chan at his Jurong Town Hall Road office between January and May 2013.
  • Two other charges of causing hurt and using abusive words were considered in sentencing.
  • The victim.
  • The victim speaking to a reporter.
  • A relative of the victim speaking to a reporter.
  • The family had previously asked for $100,000 in compensation.
  • The court was told that in January 2013, Lee slapped Mr Chan once in the face for failing to neatly arrange several software files in a computer.
  • The following month, he punched Mr Chan in the face several times, then pushed him off his chair, as he believed the intern had failed to correctly answer a customer's request.
  • On May 14, 2013, Lee grabbed Mr Chan's chin and forcefully pulled it back after finding out he had forgotten to delete files from a database.
  • The abuse that was caught on camera took place the next day, after Lee went through a conversation log between Mr Chan and a customer.
  • Some netizens who are more sceptical have pointed out that it is unlikely for a person to remain quiet while being attacked.
  • Lee felt Mr Chan had failed to perform his work well, and questioned him. When Mr Chan gave him an explanation deemed unsatisfactory, he became increasingly agitated and started to shout at the younger man. Lee then punched him in the head before slapping him three times.
  • In passing sentence, District Judge Lim Tse Haw said the 10-day SDO imposed would be sufficient to deter like-minded employers from laying their hands on their employees.
  • He said in a description put up with the original post: "I had just started an internship and noticed my supervisor constantly bullying my co-worker in the workplace.
  • "A strong message must be conveyed to all employers that such brutish behaviour has no place in our civilised society," he said.
  • "It must be made clear to all employers that an employee, no matter how low his position in the company is, is an important member of the company and not a punching bag, not even for stressed-out employers."
  • The judge considered Lee's clean record, his plea of guilt, albeit at a late stage on the first day of his trial, his $5,000 voluntary compensation and the fact that he was suffering from a depressive disorder.
  • However, he said he could not ignore the fact that what Lee had done was a serious matter. "As a responsible employer, he has a duty to have regard for the well-being and welfare of his employees.
  • "Instead, he subjected the victim to physical hurt and verbal abuse on numerous occasions, once in 2010/2011, and five other occasions from January to May of 2013."
  • Lee's lawyer Diana Ngiam successfully applied for her client to start his sentence on April 8. The maximum penalty for causing hurt is two years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
  • A special hearing was held earlier this year to determine IT company manager Lee Yew Nam's sentence after he was convicted of four charges of physically abusing a subordinate several times in 2013.
  • The defence asserted that the 45-year-old was suffering from a major depressive disorder at the time, and that it contributed to his offending behaviour.

The eldest of four children said she began working as a "project coordinator" at the company last September and it helped her pay her $1,200 monthly fees for night classes at a private university.

Problems started in her first couple of weeks at work when she did not arrive by 9am and kept arriving around 20 minutes late.

The company suggested pushing back her start time to 9.30am but said it would start docking $1 for every minute she was late.

She said she was late because at first she took a shuttle bus and had to change trains twice to get to work. Later, she found a direct bus, but would often get caught in rush-hour traffic.

She said she was not late every day, and her worst record in a single month was being a total of 139 minutes late, or roughly 7.5 minutes each day.

She knew she was in the wrong and tried to make up by taking a shorter lunch break and leaving the office later, but she was still fined.

"Still I did not complain, thinking I was late after all," she said.

But she was upset to see her $311 pay cheque because, she said, she had redone the work on the file. "That's when I realised, hey this is not right, especially since I worked very hard to re-do the file," she said.

Lawyer Mark Goh, who has represented employers and employees in workplace disputes, said if her allegations are correct, the company may have flouted the Employment Act in a number of ways.

First, while employers can make deductions for latecoming on a pro-rated basis, what Ms Lin was subjected to appears to have been excessive.

Also, under the same Act, workers generally cannot be charged more than 25 per cent of their salary for destroying or damaging office property or documents.

"If an employee frequently under-performs, the employer has the option to fire her," said Mr Goh. "Withholding her pay while expecting her to do her work can be seen as exploitation."

Labour MP Zainal Sapari, who heads an NTUC unit for contract workers like Ms Lin, said workers should consider joining unions to get advice and better protection should disputes arise with their employer.

"You can join a union as a general member even if you are a contract worker and your company is not unionised," he said.

What the boss says

Polytechnic graduate Daniel Tan (name changed), 29, who is Ms Amanda Lin's boss, said the company decided to penalise her to inculcate a "better work ethic" in her.

"She is young. She has her whole career in front of her," said Mr Tan, a director in the company. "A poor work attitude will get her nowhere."

This is his version of what happened.

On fines for late-coming

The company gave her the flexibility to push back her start time from 9am to 9.30am, but said that if she continued to be late, it would impose the fine as her tardiness was affecting the rest of the team.

On docking 70 per cent of her pay for losing an Excel file

The penalty was not just because she lost the file but for "wilful insubordination". All employees are told to back up their work, but Ms Lin did not, he said.

On restitution of pay

The company is willing to refund the deductions made for punctuality and loss of the file. But it is refusing to pay her for the whole month of March because she was absent without leave for two days.

On insisting that employees pay the equivalent of three months' salary if they quit before the end of their contract

This is necessary given that employees job-hop in a tight labour market, often after being trained.

On the lack of payslips for employees

They can make photocopies if they want.


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radhab@sph.com.sg

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