Weight-gain fines and frog squats: Boutique employees allege bizarre rules and punishments

Employees claimed that they were made to do hundreds of squats for underperforming.
PHOTO: Shin Min Daily News

[UPDATE: Sept 4]

An MOM spokesperson confirmed on Sept 3 that two former employees of Southaven Boutique had approached the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) in July and August this year to seek advice on salary payment issues.

While one of them did not pursue the matter, the other lodged a claim for notice pay. TADM is currently looking into the case.

Tafep is also in contact with the company to gather the facts on its employees’ complaints.

Forgot to fill up the electric kettle? Prepare to pay a fine of $1. Gained weight? That'll be another fine.

Strange as it may sound, that's all in a day's work at local fashion company Southaven, according to several former employees.

The fashion chain has been accused of putting employees through bizarre punishments such as frog squats and fines for anything from weight gain to forgetting to cap their pens, Shin Min Daily News reported yesterday (Aug 24).

The women, aged between 20 and 27, recounted their ordeals to the Chinese daily, claiming that they were made to:

  • Weigh themselves and update their weight in a group chat. Any weight gain was met with a fine. Some were also transferred to work in the company's warehouse instead of serving customers in stores
  • Pay fines of between $1 and $5 for miscellaneous offences that include failing to cap their pen, failing to swiftly retrieve clothes from fitting rooms, forgetting to switch off the electric kettle or not refilling it, touching any part of the storeroom door except the handle, not logging out from the cash register
  • Compensate the company if their work outfit (apparel valued anywhere from $60 to $100) was stained or damaged
  • Do 200 frog squats for falling short of weekly sales goals
  • Treat the employees of the top-performing stores to a meal every month out of their own pocket
  • Work more than 12 hours a day, with only 10 to 20 minutes for each meal break
  • Pick up extra shifts and hours without extra pay

One employee, 20, said she ended up paying "a few hundred dollars" in fines and penalties in her first month of employment.

After "enduring until [she] could not bear it" for five months, she quit her job.

Several employees alleged that they were made to weigh themselves and share their weight in a group chat. 
PHOTO: Shin Min Daily News

Another employee, also 20, related how she had resorted to a diet of meal replacement products and fruits to try to lose weight and avoid being fined.

"I often broke down and cried," she added, describing the toll the job took on her mental health.

Fines and punishments were employee-led initiatives: Southaven

Rebutting some of the claims, a spokesperson for Southaven told Shin Min:

  • The group chat monitoring employees' weights was an employee-led initiative. None of the employees was forced to participate.
  • The fines ranged between $0.50 to $2. Again, it was an employee-led initiative and meant to be a way of reminding each other not to make mistakes at work.
  • The company did not implement any corporal punishment. The employees chose to do the frog squats as self-motivation after failing to hit sales targets.
  • Employees were not forced to treat each other to meals.

Southaven, which has been in business since 1997, has five outlets in Singapore.

AsiaOne has reached out to the Ministry of Manpower for more information. 

Know your rights

Under the Employment Act, employers are not allowed to dock an employee's pay without a valid reason.

Legitimate reasons for deducting from an employee's pay include:

  • Absence from work
  • Damage or loss of money or goods
  • For supplying accommodation, amenities or services accepted by the employee
  • For recovering advances, loans, overpaid salary or unearned employment benefits
  • CPF contributions or payments to registered co-operative societies

For workers in manual labour jobs with a monthly salary below $4,500 and other jobs paying below $2,600, Part IV of the Employment Act covers issues relating to working hours.

Essentially, employees are not allowed to work more than 12 hours per day, nor should they work more than six consecutive hours without a break.

Both full-time and part-time employees are also entitled to pay for overtime work.

For other interactions in the workplace which may amount to workplace harassment, such as those that cause distress, violate one's dignity or create an unfavourable work environment, employees can approach the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) for assistance.

According to Tafep's Tripartite Guidelines, employees should be treated fairly and with respect.

Though workplace harassment may be initiated by other employees, managers or contractors, employers have a responsibility to prevent and manage it.