Fired without pay?

Guess what? There actually is effective legal recourse

TWO WEEKS ago in the General Legal Matters Forum, a very disturbed Skipper wrote of suddenly being sacked: “I have been working as an editor for a company in Taipei for the last two and a half years. They renewed my work permit for the fourth time just over a month ago. Yesterday my manager, who has a looooooong history of conflicts with employees, both foreign and Taiwanese, called me in to the office when no one else was there, fired me, wouldn’t give me a reason, and said some very abusive things.”

The boss refused to put his decision in writing and further threatened to cancel her work permit. Skipper’s panicked reaction: “This means I have seven days to get out of the country, right?” She was also left wondering whether the forms she signed ever actually amounted to a contract, and most disturbing of all: “Am I really at the mercy of someone who doesn’t seem to be making rational decisions?”

Linking to the Labor Standards Law, Feiren advised: “I’m sorry to hear about this…your employer should have notified you 20 days in advance. If you have been fired for no reason, then your employer owes you two months salary in compensation. If your employer does not want to give you 20 days notice, he can convert that into 20 days of pay above the two months you are owed for your two full years of service.” He also noted, “Labor dispute boards favor the employee heavily.”

According to the law, to get fired without notice you must do one of six things, basically: lie about yourself when you get hired, become violent at work, go to jail, commit a “gross breach” of either contract or work rules, steal trade secrets or destroy property, or not show up for at least three days in a row. The amount of notice given by an employer is graduated depending on how long you’ve worked for a company. Three to 12 months merits ten days advanced notice, one to three years requires 20 days, and more than three years means 30 days. Severance pay is also scaled, requiring bosses to pay one month’s salary per full year worked (i.e. Feiren’s assessment was right on the money).

But as Skipper noted, she was never given a reason (several other posters, including Juba, Hexuan, and Stray Dog noted similar experiences), and none of this meant that Skipper’s boss couldn’t call the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) to annul her work permit and effectively deport her.

But that was only true if Skipper took it lying down. Various posters advised her to contact Taipei City’s Department of Labor (for back pay), the CLA (for work permit), and a rights advocacy group, the Labor Rights Association (LRA – for general assistance). Another poster, fee, was basically correct in suggesting: “go to these places directly and in person. It is amazing how much faster and smoother things seem to go if you are there in the office (as opposed to calling on the phone–and being put on hold and shunted off…”

Three days later, a grateful and “empowered” Skipper had found helpful English speakers at both the LRA and CLA, which it turns out had not cancelled her work permit. (Also, for the record, the “seven days to get out of the country” thing is not exactly true. The CLA can cancel work permits to kick resident aliens out of the country, though if you protest in time they can put the motion on hold. Also, the clock is 14 days, not seven, and it does not start ticking until the deportee signs for the registered mail envelope containing the eviction-from-Taiwan notice. I’ve even heard of one case where someone’s lawyer advised him to stall by simply not picking up his mail.).

That’s the good news. But it still doesn’t solve the problem of whimsical martinets at the head of editing departments, or as LittleBuddhaTW calls them, “asshole bosses.” As Skipper notes: “I know I’m not alone. I’ve seen many excellent editors, many talented and creative people, come and go from this company in the two and a half years I’ve been there. They seem to have an official policy of maintaining a high employee turnover rate!!” This may be explained, as Chainsmoker noted offline, because high turnover guards against western foreigners forming an office culture – something that could eat into the power structure and ultimately challenge an employer’s competence. I note it as a provocatively interesting theory.

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