A story which a programmer fight in the court alone against a company, with a lawyer and a forged evidence.
In 2018, I decided to quit my job at Intel to join a newly startup company, Boostorder (parent company: Instanture) believing their promise and future potential. Before that, I do all my homework before joining the startup. The company have received a new funding from a multinational company, financial check. One of my friends recommend the director as trustable, leadership check. I even visited the company myself to understand their work and product, all check. Obviously, they promised a lot, but do they actually deliver them is another story.
After many empty promises and disappointments, I decided to resign and submitted my resign email on 10th October. The director, Chuah Teong Kee and I have a small, heated exchange when he known that I had resigned. In the end, we verbally agreed that if the company still need my assistance on my final week in the company, I will continue to work at the office and company will cash out my remaining annual leave if it happens.
After discussion with my direct manager, he determined that my assistance was not needed in the final week. So, I applied my annual leave on 1st December as planned and did not went to the office from 2nd to 6th December. This is where the horror story start.
At the end of December, I found out that I did not receive my remaining salary and some of my parking expanses. I sent two reminder emails to the director on 24th and 30th December. No reply from both emails.
On 7th January, I sent a Whatsapp message to the director to remind him about the email and salary. Read but no reply.
On 13th January, I message my direct manager and another director in the company and explain to them what had happened. My direct manager replied that he already informed the director, but no reason is given, and no action is taken. While the other director in the company, Khoo Ta Kang refuse to help me citing that he is powerless against another director and do not want to get involved in this.
On 17th January, I went to office personally to seek a valid reason. The director refused to speak with me and told me that he will call police to get me arrested for trespassing private property if I did not leave the office immediately. I leave the office immediately.
With advice from friend, I filed a small claim against the director of the company at Balik Pulau Court on 24th February. I naively though the company will just pay me back after they got the court letter. I was dead wrong.
Side note: Why small claim? Because it does not require a lawyer representation. Why not seek help from Department of Labour of Peninsular Malaysia? I tried but they cannot help me due to some law that written in year 1955 and did not get updated ever since.
No reply from the company after they received the court document. On 28th February, the director shows up with a lawyer in the court proceeding. Surprise! They claim that they refused to pay my salary because I did not apply my annual leave on time as written in the employee handbook: “All annual leave must be applied one week before”. I checked the employee handbook; this rule does not exist. They also claim that I did not submit my parking expanses, which I did, and I can easily prove them. Then I realized that this is not going to end without a fight, and they are not going to play fairly.
Side note: The small claim should be file against the company instead of the director because it is company that own my salary, not the director personally. This is corrected by the judge on the proceeding.
March 2020 – February 2021
MCO 1.0 and 2.0 hit. Court close and case get delayed multiple times. Still, I must go to court personally multiple times, sit in the court room waiting to get a new date and time for each time the case gets delayed. Unlike the lawyer, I do not get pay for this.
Court hearing finally happen on 22nd April. Unsurprisingly, the director and lawyer show up in court hearing with a “updated”employee handbook which contain the new rule: “All annual leave must be applied one week before”. Surprise, surprise. Luckily, I have the old employee handbook and debunked their claim. I also have all my parking expanses digital report to backup. Their defends is down from “This employee break our company’s rule when he applied annual leave less than 1 week as required” to “The 1-week rule is not really relevant, it is unreasonable to approve leave on Sunday because it is hard to find a replacement”. Nice U-turn, Mr. Lawyer. I never know software engineer / developer need a replacement when they are on leave. Also, startup company don’t work on Sunday you say?
I also pointed that if the company honestly think that I broke the company’s rule or policy and refused to pay my remaining salary, they have plenty of opportunity to tell me when I email or message them to remind them about the salary. Instead, they refused to speak with me or reply any of my email and message and even threaten me to get me arrest when I meet them in person. This is simply just a retaliation against me for leaving the company.
Side note: If anyone who know about civil court’s process, all party must perform document filing and exchange document between parties before court hearing. I did my document filing and waited for them to exchange document with me. Technically I should know if they have submitted the “updated” employee handbook as evidence before the court hearing, but their lawyer told the judge that he does not know the process thus did not do the document filing before court hearing.
I going to skip the rest of the court hearing details because a programmer arguing with a lawyer in court is not as interesting as you can imagine.
On 6th May, the court finally ruled that the company must pay back my remaining salary. Before I manage to get the court ruling document done, MCO 3.0 hit follow by FMCO. Although the court still open during this time, to avoid unnecessary trouble and reduce non-essential travel, I opt to wait until the MCO lifted.
On 10th May, I received a mail from defendant’s lawyer informing me that Boostorder has already made the payment as order by the court on 7th May, which the company own me a year and half ago. Thank you very much?
FMCO become Recovery Plan and it never end. Finally I get my 2 shot of vaccinations, and able to safety travel a cross district to the court in order to get the final court ruling document done. Delivered a copy to Boostorder. Although they have paid me in May, I still want to get all the paperwork done (better safe than sorry especially dealing with a shady company and a dishonest employer).
So, let me recap. I spend more almost 2 years fighting in court to get back the salary I lawfully earned at the first place. To be honest, the cost for all court filing and annual leave applied to attend the court in person, it already far excesses the remaining salary I tried to claim back. Not to mention the risk of catching Covid-19 whenever I attend the court.
Did the company get punished for not paying their employee as required by the law? No.
Did the company get punished for owning employee’s salary for more than a year? No.
Did the company get punished for submitted a forged evidence in court? No.
I’m just lucky to win in this court case. There are so many ways this court case can fall apart. What if my ex-employer claim that I did not submit my annual leave application at all? The HR system is under their control and who will think of taking a screenshot when apply for annual leave? What if I go to court without my old employee handbook with me? If I did not win the court case, every time other companies perform a background check on me when I apply a new job, do you think Boostorder will say nice word about me? My employment record and court record will be toasted!
What have I learned? In Malaysia, company can easily get away from not paying their employee if they are willing to pay the lawyer. Not many employees are willing to go through the legal trouble. For foreigner, that is even harder. Even if they do, what is the worst thing that can happen to the company? Pay back the salary and they are off to go. If employee decided to take their frustrations to the social media instead, it does not make any difference, employee still is not getting back their salary and a defamation lawyer letter maybe waiting in their inbox. So, if any of you happened to face the same situation as mine where ex-employer own your remaining salary. My advice for you “Forget about it”. If you insist on talking the same path as mine, my advice will be “Good Luck” because you really need all the luck to win.
Startup in Malaysia. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a story about me bashing how bad startup culture are in Malaysia. There are many good startup companies out there in Malaysia and even in Penang. But Boostorder / Instanture is not one of them and their bad behavior deserved to be call out because it is very damaging to local startup. Imagine if anyone who joined this startup company and went through such bad experience, will he / she choose another startup company again in the next job? Even worse, if an intern who joined such startup company during internship, will he / she spread good word about startup when he / she returns to the university / college?
Bonus: A lot of you asked me what have I done to the company caused that the director to go after me? I HAVE NO IDEA! I am working my ass off even on the last day in the office, porting Xamarin library, helping others to hunt bug in the app. Even after I left the company, I never turn down other ex-colleague request for help when they messaged me. The only thing I did was, I resigned from my position and like most employees who left this company, it is not a happy ending.