Sour Apples – Part VIII
I’d finally hit my breaking point and quit my job. I had no new job lined up and with a wedding sucking on my finances, no money saved either. Needless to say, it was far from an ideal situation. But I was at my mental and emotional limit, so it was something that had to be done. Amazingly enough, merely quitting would not mark the end of my problems with this company.
Sometime in the middle of August, a week or two after I’d originally turned in my notice of resignation, the president handed out two papers. One was sort of a “promise to the company” where we’d sign this form promising to be good little workers and work hard or whatever. Another was a proof of identity – this one was tricky, because we had to have two co-signers sign for us. I believe I’ve mentioned before that co-signing in Japan is a pretty big deal. For most Gaijin, if we need a Japanese co-signer, we turn to our work colleagues, who’d spend a good amount of time soul-searching and consulting with the Lost Gods of Mt. Fuji before giving us an answer (which isn’t always yes!). If its work asking for co-signers…well…that creates a bit of a problem doesn’t it?
Since I was quitting the company, I figured these documents didn’t apply to me. I stuffed them in my desk drawer and didn’t give them much thought. However, in my last meeting with the president, a day or two before my last day, he told me to be sure to turn the papers in – “or else you might not get paid.” Nothing about that seemed right to me, but I took the papers out of my drawer and stuffed them in my bag anyway.
My last day of work was somewhat uneventful. About half of the company – including the president and the supervisor – were away on a company trip. I actually preferred it this way. The remaining staff did give me a proper send-off though, which I was very happy for. Officially, to explain why I was quitting, I cited my wedding ceremony in September and that I wouldn’t be able to work properly. Most people though, knew that this was a pretty lie. “What’s your real reason for quitting?” One Japanese lady asked. With the president and supervisor gone, I could have laid it all out on the table, but I just didn’t feel like doing that. I simply just wanted to quit and be done with it. “Saa…” I said, which is the Japanese way of saying “Well, I don’t really want to go into detail about that.” Even if I didn’t explain my woes, most of them had seen the supervisor’s treatment of me in person, or heard about other incidents through the gossip mill. Besides, most of them had their own personal gripes with the company as well. So, they understood.
I can tell you, not having to go into work the following Monday was a wonderful feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time. I did miss my Train Crew though.
I wasn’t completely done with the company yet though. There was still the two documents the president had handed out. I thought I’d make an attempt to at least turn them in, so I went to my mother-in-law. She read over the documents, but caught something she didn’t like. She told me that if I signed these papers, got the co-signers, and turned them in, it would give the company the power to hold me liable for anything for the next 5 years. I quit in August, but let’s say the computer I used broke down in December, or hell, even 2 years from now. Legally, the company could say that the computer breaking down was a result of things I did to it, and hold me responsible to pay for a new one. My mother-in-law knew about my woes with this company, and she just didn’t trust them. “You don’t even work there anymore!” she exclaimed. She told me that she wasn’t going to sign, and that I should just forget about it.
I didn’t exactly trust the company either. So I took her advice and simply forgot about the papers. However, maybe a week or so later I got an email from the company reminding me to turn the papers in. They said that even though I quit, I was an employee when the papers were handed out, therefore they applied to me as well. Though the person who sent the email wasn’t the president, at the end of the email he included a message from the president. This message more or less said that this was something the parent company had decided, and as such, people who failed to turn the papers in would have their paychecks withheld.
I asked my mother-in-law about this latest development, and she suggested I talk with the Labor Bureau, which I did. The counselor I talked to said that the papers themselves weren’t at all uncommon. Perhaps not a norm anymore, but not uncommon. What was weird, was the timing – usually, these papers are handed out when people first join the company. None of us had done this paperwork, so okay, maybe its something he’s starting late and wanted to retroactively get the current staff on as well. And it was very strange to be demanding these papers from someone who no longer worked there. The counselor said that turning in the papers was ultimately my decision, but withholding paychecks for any reason was illegal. He even made a copy of the page in the law book where it states that withholding of paychecks is not allowed. He advised me to reply to the email I’d gotten and say that I wasn’t turning the papers in by my choice, but as withholding a paycheck is illegal, please pay me on the proper pay date. He said that if I didn’t get my paycheck, to take it to the Central Labor Bureau in Osaka. So I did exactly that – I wrote an email saying I wasn’t turning in the papers because I no longer worked there, withholding paychecks is illegal so please pay me, and if I didn’t get paid I would take the matter to the Central Labor Bureau. I even scanned and sent the copy of the law book page the counselor had given me. I sent this email, but got no response to it.
The only thing to do now was to wait to see if I actually got paid or not. Given everything that had happened with this company, and the president’s attitude, I fully expected not to. I hoped, however, that he would prove me wrong.
If I may, allow me to present a short timeline. My parents arrived in Japan on a Thursday afternoon. The following Friday, I woke up early and checked my bank account, as it was payday. It was empty – as I’d expected, I did not get my paycheck. The next day, Saturday, was my wedding ceremony.
I was angry – of course, not getting paid for the work you’d done is a maddening thing – but more than that, the president knew about this. He knew what day my parents were coming and he knew the day of my wedding ceremony. Despite that, he did it anyway. I can only assume that this was an intentional malicious act – is there any other way to see it?
I was angry, but I had to put that behind me. My parents had come to Japan for the first time ever, and I was about to get married. But once the dust settled, it would be time to fight. And fight I would.
…Bet you were expecting me to end the entry here, huh? Not this time!
The day after my parents left Japan, I went to the Central Labor Bureau. Although I had to go through a couple of bonehead counselors, the lady who was eventually assigned to my case was very nice and also seemed shocked/outraged at the series of events at the company. She arranged to go down there personally to have a talk with the president. He seemed to be avoiding her to some extent – the meeting got rescheduled twice – but she did make it out there. She asked if anyone else had gotten their salaries withheld, and he admitted that it was only me. She asked the reason why, and he had said “kekkyoku kanjouteki” – “ultimately, emotional.” She then pointed out that withholding salaries is illegal, to which he reportedly replied “Oh, is that so?” With the law against him, he was forced to pay me, which he did one month after the scheduled pay date.
As the lady explained the meeting to me, she also said, “right as we were finishing up, the president asked me to ask you if you would still turn in those papers.” I almost laughed over the phone. “No, I don’t think so.” “Right. I’m just conveying the message,” she says. I could hear the incredulity in her voice, as if she were almost embarrassed to ask such a thing. To date, I don’t know why getting those papers was so important to him, especially from an employee who’d quit.
I’d also asked about my cut salary, but apparently it is legal to cut someone’s salary – to a point. Unfortunately, there was nothing further I could do about that, and my final paycheck was still under the cut wages. My case advisor seemed apologetic about that, but was very happy that I was getting my pay. She was a nice lady and helped me tremendously.
At the same time, I’d also phoned the consultation department of the parent company. Since the president liked to blame them so much, I just thought I’d “confirm” all the things he’d put on their shoulders. I asked about my cut salary and my paycheck being withheld, and told them that he’d said that this was their call. They promised to look into it, and a representative did talk to the president at some point. A few weeks later, they contacted me to report the results of their findings – the president was forced to admit that the pay cut and the withholding of the paycheck were all 100% his doing. Apparently, though I’m not familiar with the details, the president also got a stiff talking-down to from one of the representatives at the parent company. That was all I wanted to accomplish – to catch him in the lies and for someone in a position of power to give him a talking-to, although I doubt the message got through.
And with that, finally, I was done with this company.
Sour Apples – Aftermath
It’s been two and half months since I quit my job. I’m still unemployed – I’ve been looking for work but the pickings are still slim. I’ve been to a few interviews even but didn’t get them. I also went to Tokyo for job interviews, but those didn’t pan out either. The job market should start getting better in the next month, so I’m hoping to find something soon.
If the president was trying to screw me over with the timing of the pay cut and withholding my paycheck, he royally succeeded. The pay cut threw off my calculations for saving for the wedding. As a result, I had to use up most of my August check for the wedding, which meant that I couldn’t pay bills. And then I didn’t get my September check, which left those bills unpaid – I only had about $15 dollars in my bank account, and this was with my wedding taking place and my parents in Japan. Finally getting the check in October, as well as donations I received from Gaijin Smash (thank you very much!) let me at least catch up with August and September, but I’m still two months behind on most bills.
When I quit, I had planned to do outsource translation for the company – I was familiar with the work and while the pay was low compared to the standard, at least it was something. However, after getting my paycheck withheld, I lost any and all desire to do that – I didn’t want to help them out in any way, especially considering that their pay rates are so low (the existing outsource staff under my tenure also realized it was a low pay rate, and I had to sort of lower my head and apologize and blame management. The president wanted to cut it even further!).
Given the situation, the smart thing to do would have been to either keep working the job, or cancel the wedding. The job was making me miserable everyday, and canceling the wedding…I can’t imagine trying to look my wife in the eye and saying “you know that wedding you’ve been looking forward to all year? Yeah, we can’t do that now.” So, this is just one of life’s tough spots, but I’m no stranger to that and I’ll get through it somehow.
I still keep up with many of my former co-workers. As I’ve said before, they’re all good people. A-san found another job with a company in a similar field. She tried to get me a job there but things just didn’t work out. The former computer programmer is still unemployed as well, but he admits that he hasn’t been looking. He has money saved up, so he’s just taking it easy for the moment and is considering taking a trip somewhere. Curly and Ms. Shocker are also doing okay, though both also are looking for their way out. Curly hasn’t been subjected to any bad treatment, yet, but really dislikes what has happened to everyone else, and can’t help but to wonder when it will be his turn. Ms. Shocker actually wrote an email to the president in which she tried to tell him that she felt that people were being treated unfairly. He called her out for a private talk and, from what I understand, basically just called her names. Apparently, he said that if people had problems with him, they were best to just keep their mouths shut about that. The next time I saw Ms. Shocker, she had all sorts of colorful adjectives for him, including “that fucking asshole bastard.”
Both Curly and Ms. Shocker said that I’d changed since leaving the company – I seemed to be much more happier and stress-free overall.
As for the company, 2-3 more people have quit since I left. Doris quit a few weeks before I did, primarily to go back to China but not without her own gripes with the company. One Japanese girl, a relatively new hire, was outraged at the idea of withholding paychecks, and quit. Those who haven’t quit are quietly plotting their escape. Apparently, there have been a lot of new hires in the past few months. There are three new computer programmers to replace the old one. Three! We all couldn’t help but to wonder “why couldn’t you have done that sooner to help out the first guy?!” Just taking a quick mental survey, aside from the president, the supervisor, and Small Wonder, I can’t think of anyone else working there who’d been there when I first joined the company a little less than 2 years ago.
All in all, it was an experience. Not entirely a pleasant one, but I learned a lot. Hopefully I can take everything I learned and put it to good use somewhere down the line.
And now, finally, I can put this story to bed.
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