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I am in a really awkward situation. I work in a small subsidiary company whose parent company is overseas. The parent company is in Singapore and owns our company here in Vietnam.

We are completely dependent on the parent company to send over funds for operation. For the last several months, the payroll has been delayed due to messy changes in our local management staff. We only have six employees, including the director and all decided to quit. Now that conflict does not seem to be solvable.

I think I am the lone guy who wants to at least complete my responsibility and help with the transition process. The overseas boss, who I am on good terms with, asks me to hand over the work of the whole team here (I work on and have access to most of the projects), because he said the local director threatens and holds ransom. On the other hand, the local director asks me not to do so, so that the parent company has to process payroll before we hand over any work. I want to be responsible, but also I don't want all my colleagues not being paid for, now that they can only depend on that "ransom" to be paid.

And to be clear, the parent company still has not sent funds for the last month, so we are not paid for our last month effort yet by the subsidiary company. We do not have proper funds to continue operations here. Even the office rental is due. We couldn't even shut down the company without agreement from the parent company.

We are only a small team and have no one for processes like HR, union, etc. Everyone resigned, but our director here doesn't want to hand over the work, more specifically software source code, to the parent company unless they process the payroll for our last month.

What should I do now? I know I could just hand over my own stuff, but most of my work have efforts of others, too. So I'm not sure what to do about that. And if I side with the local director and hold the work until payroll is processed, would that be counted as ransom or collusion if a lawsuit is to be involved?

I just feel really frustrated sitting between the two parties and would appreciate any advice on this situation.

FWIW, I also handed in my resignation, but I want to complete the transition process so it wouldn't cause much damage to the parent company.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Dec 11 '20 at 12:55
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    Has your immediate boss actually left the company, meaning finished their notice period and left, not just resigned? Dec 11 '20 at 19:49

13 Answers 13

215

You have not been paid for services provided. You are under no obligation to continue to provide services with no expectation of payment. You can still do as you wish, but if I'm not getting paid, I'm not even showing up.

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    The key thing is... once OP hands over the work they won't get paid, just like the last couple months. Employment is a CONTRACT. If the employer does not fulfill their end of the contract (pay you), you DO NOT DO YOURS (work). Working for free is to your own detriment and everyone else's. It is NOT a ransom to not work if you are not paid. It is simple logic.
    – Nelson
    Dec 11 '20 at 4:00
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    I find this answer dangerous from a a generic POV. Employment laws in many countries are not as simple as that. Most of the time employment termination is determined by lots of legislation. Yes, "no pay" is probably a good reason in most countries to allow for fast/immediate termination, but legally it may be risky if you just don't do your job without taking any official 'termination' steps (providing right documents and such). Talk to a union representative or lawyer before blindly doing this.
    – KillianDS
    Dec 11 '20 at 14:20
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    There is another good reason to not hand over the assets, which I expand on in my answer. Specifically - you are not actually employed by the parent company. Dec 11 '20 at 18:14
  • 7
    Without knowing the specifics of the employment contract and local laws, this is a very high risk answer. What you're essentially saying here is that because the employer is likely violating the terms of the employment, you can feel free to violate other terms. That's not necessarily true. Doing this could potentially give them legal standing to not pay that last month that they wouldn't otherwise have. If you're going to hold something "ransom" (please don't use that word in any emails or official communications), you better be damn sure you're legally entitled to. Dec 11 '20 at 19:11
  • 4
    @GrandOpener Another contract says "give me $100 and I'll give you new brake pads". If you don't give them $100, do you expect the brake pads anyway? No, of course not.
    – user253751
    Dec 12 '20 at 0:52
136

While it is noble for you to want to meet what you feel are your obligations, the company has not paid you for what they are asking you to do. You only have an obligation to provide the service they paid for. Given how shady they are, I wouldn't give them any help at this point.

Also, while I am not a HUGE fan of unions, this is a legitimate job action by your coworkers. If you do the handover, you are undermining your associates for a company that is giving you nothing in return.

Do not turn over anything you don't have to, support your coworkers.

Edited to add: NOTE: This also means do not do anything malicious. Do not destroy/hide/damage or obstruct. Either. Do not help, but do not destroy.

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    "Yes, overseas boss, I've prepared everything you've asked for and handed it off to local boss to transfer to you." Dec 10 '20 at 19:51
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    One caveat: If you're not being paid, you don't have a duty to do anything. Don't do anything to destroy, obfuscate, encrypt, or in any other way damage the work, but no pay means you have no obligation to prepare and deliver it, either. Dec 10 '20 at 22:23
  • Thank you for highlighting that while the OP has responsibility to the parent company, he also has ethical responsibility to all his team members and boss, who are local and more immediately affected. When (and ONLY when) parent company fulfils THEIR responsibility, all will be well. Dec 11 '20 at 14:09
  • @WesleyLong good point, I edited my answer. Thank you Dec 11 '20 at 14:30
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    I don't think it is a "job action" at all: OP's immediate boss is a director. In the company law of most countries (including Vietnam), the duty of a company director is to make decisions in the interest of the company of which s/he is a director (here, the subsidiary), on the basis of his/her own judgement, and without taking instructions from anyone outside the company (not even from a representative of a parent company that owns all the equity). There's a case to be made that OP's immediate boss is just doing his/her job diligently, not engaging in any kind of industrial action. Dec 13 '20 at 13:09
110

As I read it the situation is:

Your boss is trying to bargain for you all to get the pay you're owed - your boss' boss is trying to undermine that bargaining position by getting the work off you without paying.

If you hand anything over then you're limiting the chances you, and your collegues, get paid for the work you've already done.

To limit your own responsibility I recommend collating all the work together and giving it to your boss. You've handed the work up the chain of command and the sticking point between higher ups isn't your problem.

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    THIS. No other answer provides a way to fulfil responsibilities while maintain the very reasonable request of the direct boss.
    – Neinstein
    Dec 11 '20 at 18:26
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    If higher-up boss insists on you delivering the work, you could reply you gave it to the immediate boss, and cc both. That way you're actually strengthening your team's negotiating position, while ostensibly complying with the higher-up boss' request.
    – dbkk
    Dec 12 '20 at 4:02
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    Also, if possible, work for that boss (the direct boss) in the future if there is opportunity - this seems like a good boss! Dec 12 '20 at 17:07
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It's very simple. Stop communicating directly with your boss's boss. You shouldn't be doing that anyway.

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    Could you expand a bit on why OP should not communicate directly with their bosses boss? I may have misanswered an interview question on what I should do if I get conflicting requests from boss and bosses boss (question was along the lines of "if boss asks you do x by end of day and bosses boss to do y by end of day and you can do one but not both, what do you do?", my answer was "immediately inform both and discuss prioritisation", but if there is some (unwritten?) rule to not talk to bosses boss at all if he calls me that may not be the right answer? (NB: I did get the job)
    – gerrit
    Dec 11 '20 at 7:26
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    I think it has more to do with the specific situation (the two bosses are in an employment conflict, LW has already resigned, etc.) than a general rule.
    – BSMP
    Dec 11 '20 at 8:05
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    @gerrit An important factor here is that the "boss's boss" is literally a different company. It's not simply office politics, and it isn't an employment conflict, it's actually a legal dispute between companies. The purpose of subsidiary companies is so that they can be cut adrift from the parent company if necessary, by limiting the parent company's obligations to the subsidiary. But the reverse is also true - anyone in the subsidiary company then also has zero obligations to the parent company. Your chain of command explicitly stops at the directors of your subsidiary.
    – Graham
    Dec 11 '20 at 12:17
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    Technically, OP is the only employee remaining in the subsidiary company who has not resigned. At this point, his boss no longer works at the company. Not saying that your position is incorrect, but it's not as simple as it wants to be.
    – Ben Barden
    Dec 11 '20 at 14:27
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    @BenBarden Actually, see the very last paragraph of the question. OP has resigned as well.
    – TooTea
    Dec 11 '20 at 14:46
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I agree with the other answers that say you should not hand anything over, and there is a very specific reason for this.

You do not actually work for the overseas parent company.

You work for the local company. Your contract is with them, and they tell you what to do. Your "overseas boss", if he works for the parent company, only gets to tell your company what to do - not you specifically. If the company you really work for (meaning your boss) decides not to do it, that is their prerogative, and you should not go against it.

And unless you are a lawyer with a deep understanding of the contractual relationships between the companies you don't actually know who owns these documents.

Note that this is very specific to this situation. If your boss's boss worked for the same company as you it would be very different. Also if you hadn't quit you might act differently.

You owe the parent company, and your overseas boss, nothing. Ignore their messages. If you disobey your boss and hand them over you are disclosing your company's confidential information without permission. That could get you terminated for disobedience, and theoretically prosecuted. (Not going to happen in this situation of course).

At the point where you literally become the last (or most senior) person working for your company - where everyone else has finished their notice and actually left - then you may have to make a different decision. But while your boss is still there, don't go against his orders.

This is all over and above the issue that you haven't been paid, which would certainly in my mind relieve you of any moral guilt about not handing over documents.

As for future employability, tell future employers that you resigned because you weren't paid. Give your boss as a reference. It's going to be much better for you to keep on the right side of someone who works in your country than someone who works in a different country.

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  • +1 for "keep the person who will give the reference happy"
    – Ian
    Dec 12 '20 at 23:21
  • "At the point where you literally become the last (or most senior) person working for your company - where everyone else has finished their notice and actually left - then you may have to make a different decision." The last employee doesn't magically become the director. The owner of the company (the parent company?) would have to assign a director.
    – Roland
    Dec 14 '20 at 8:55
  • @Roland Yes, but at that point the directors may be giving you a direct order. Dec 14 '20 at 13:41
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IANAL but I think that if your boss's boss would be in the right he would be able to force your boss to do the handover or be able to replace him with someone more obedient. Trying to bypass your boss by going directly to you seems a rather sly move to me.

So I think legally it's far safer for you to obey your direct boss and not go against a direct order of him, unless someone with legal expertise in this area tells you otherwise. Apart from that I think it's better/safer to piss off one person in another country than 6 people you see in person for at least 8 hours a day.

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    100% this. Your boss's boss pulled into his conflict which you otherwise would not have been part of. You're being used.
    – DKNguyen
    Dec 11 '20 at 1:56
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    This seems to apply in particular, since you're being paid by the local company (boss), not by the overseas company (boss' boss).
    – FreeMan
    Dec 11 '20 at 12:00
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    what is IANAL short for ?
    – PeterH
    Dec 11 '20 at 14:20
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    "I am not a lawyer" Dec 11 '20 at 14:28
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Additionally, consider future employability

Something that has not been touched upon: You want to get hired again, presumably in your current industry and your current area. You are much more likely to meet your direct boss again (in a position where they can influence your getting hired too) than your boss's boss. Even if you should end up applying to a company that is subsidiary to the exact same overseas company you're dealing with now, the hiring at your level will be done locally. The person hiring you might be friends with your current boss. Sure, your boss's boss might interfere, but there's a chance they won't bother.

So either way, you're boss's boss will be less likely to hinder your hiring if you go against them than your direct boss will be, if you go against them.

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    Yes, unless you're moving to Singapore it's best to keep on friendly terms in your local industry
    – Kilisi
    Dec 11 '20 at 21:06
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    This is the only answer. Look out for yourself; no company will do that for you.
    – axsvl77
    Dec 12 '20 at 0:43
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This is in the realm of "check with a lawyer" - as by agreeing to work for a company, and then being paid by them (until recently) - you were doing work for hire. You may also have signed other sorts of intellectual property stuff that has other implications, depending on the company. IP law varies significantly between countries, and even more so where you are in one country and your bosses in another. Getting caught up in this stuff can be a real mess.

So, I think you know the murky ethical tradeoff:

  • If you hand over materials and facilitate transition, you undercut what your boss and the other employees are trying to do - they are trying to get the parent company to pay them as promised by making it difficult and expensive for them to carry on the work w/out them. If you then make the transition easy, you risk screwing both yourself and your peers/boss out of the potential last few weeks of wages. Getting money back after you quit is difficult and unlikely. On the good side - you leave with more grace, better contacts in the parent company, and a better reputation.

  • If you side with the local folks near you - you risk the displeasure of the company, and if the group is even denying access to materials they worked on for the parent company - you could be at risk of prosecution (this is the lawyer part). You do, however, end up with a better reputation and more contacts within the local group, who may be your better and more useful network (unless you plan to move to Signapore).

My approach (if I wanted to be nice..) would be:

  • spend the rest of the day writing up a QUICK guide to the stuff you are leaving behind - like a 1 pager for where to find the work in progress, the to-do list, any work related artifacts - the very basics of what they are entitled to have. Leave it on the work server or your company equipment w/out transporting any of the data anywhere. You are leaving it on premise for the parent company to pick up at it's convenience. That way you are not crossing the line between the local group and the parent company, but you are not denying anything the company has the right to, and you are least spending a few hours trying to be decent.
  • pack up your personal belongings and head out at the end of the day and don't come back unless the pay agreements change. Make sure that any company equipment that was at your home is returned to the office before you hand in any access stuff like badges or keys.

IMO - if the parent company actually valued your work, it would not come to the point where the entire office is quitting because of lack of pay. Once a payment system is set up, it's just not that hard to keep it running. The fact that this is has hit this level of crisis makes me think that the parent company really doesn't value the work that much.

If you feel really bad - at least in the US - it would also be OK to say to the second level boss - "I've left a guide to my work on my computer at my desk, I'm sorry, but I don't feel comfortable doing more without getting paid for it". If he presses, because he's the big boss and you should obey him, it's OK to point out that his authority ends when the paycheck ends.

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"the payroll has been delayed..."

" .. we are not paid for our last month .."

The day that your pay is delayed, at any company, walk away.

End of story.

It may be you lose being paid for the last week or two, but, you must cut your losses.

Never, ever, EVER stay at a company where pay is late by even one day.

Walk away that day.


What to do now, per the question title "What to do?"

Walk away.

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    While this is not strictly true, it's better than what OP has done. Have an upvote.
    – Joshua
    Dec 11 '20 at 20:08
  • This is a comment and not an answer to the OPs question. The event happened and the OP stayed. Is that stupid? Yes. Does your answer address his current problem? No.
    – Peter M
    Dec 12 '20 at 4:43
  • This is a bit exaggerated. If you work for Google and they legitimately have some technical error in they payroll systems causing a delay of a couple of days, you don't walk away. This answer is too strongly worded. In OPs case I agree that he should not be working, though.
    – Fiksdal
    Dec 13 '20 at 12:19
  • @RevetahwsaysReinstateMonica I understand what you mean, but that specific example is a bad one! If Alphabet ... merely typing this is incredible ... missed a payroll ... it would be the single biggest financial news story, worldwide, since WW2. It would result in staggering market implications, within minutes employees would run like hell from the buildings, the economy would be in turmoil. The only thing I can think of on the scale of Alphabet missing payroll would be if the US Government stated they'd default on debt! Heh!
    – Fattie
    Dec 13 '20 at 20:21
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You seem to have two issues here: The ethical issue of "I'm an employee I should do my job", and the legal one of "what am I liable for in the case that I don't provide the materials and hold them 'for ransom'?"

For the latter, see a lawyer if you are that concerned about it. I don't know Vietnamese law and probably neither does anyone else here. If I had to guess, I would say that if your manager and all your teammates think it's ok, then probably it's ok. But that's a complete guess, do not take it as legal advice. This may be easier to answer if you read your contract. You haven't been paid your salary in some amount of time, does that constitute a breach of contract? It probably does. What does the contract say about breaches of contract? What can you retaliate with if the contract is breached? Does withholding of work count? You may also be able to find these resources online, or by contacting your local labour board (or whatever such thing you have in Vietnam).

As for the former, here's my opinion: As an employee, you have no loyalty to your company, except inasmuch as they have loyalty to you. If your company is doing their responsibility towards you, then you have an ethical responsibility (and legal one) to repay in kind. That's where the relationship ends, however; as soon as the company is not doing their responsibility towards you, you have no ethical or moral requirement to continue doing your responsibility to them. If that costs the company money, or causes them problems, or whatever, it's not your problem. Management of the company is there to make sure the company continues in whatever situation happens, it's their job to pick up the mess if you don't do your job; usually this starts with removing the cause of the situation, which usually means firing the employee in question, but as above, that's not applicable to this case right now. But the rest is management's problem, not yours. Don't make it your problem, you're not paid enough (or at all).

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    In OP's case, any loyalty owed is to the subsidiary, not the parent.
    – jcm
    Dec 12 '20 at 1:53
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Consider which person would be more useful in your professional network in the future.

I'd suspect Localboss is going to be a better person to keep in contact with than Remoteboss who is in another country.

I would do exactly what Localboss tells you to, and keep in touch with all your good current coworkers. If the Remoteboss gets annoyed, what can they do - fire you?

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Do what your new boss has asked you to do. Also, ask for a formalization of your promotion.

Your previous boss has resigned, and no longer has any power over you, and you owe them no consideration beyond those considerations you're legally obligated to provide to them. You're now the sole employee of this branch, and the manager of the manager of this branch has asked for you to send them the results of your branch's work to them. As a result, I would suggest that you comply with their request, since they're your new boss. Additionally, since as the only surviving employee of your branch, you're the de facto manager there, I would recommend that you ask your new boss to formally recognize this fact and give you a promotion into your old boss's job.

Upon receiving this formal confirmation of your promotion, I would recommend that you ask that they send your branch enough money to make payroll, in order to avoid the company a costly lawsuit by your branch's previous employees. While the main branch of the company might be hurting for money, a lawsuit over unpaid wages would surely cost the company even more money, both from the lawsuit and the loss of consumer confidence in the company's stability that such a lawsuit would cause.

Even if the company continues its non-payment of your wages, you could still leverage your promotion into a managerial position to find a higher-paid job next time, so it's still a win for you. Even as far as reputation, I doubt your former coworkers would hold it against you much if you can honestly tell them that you used your new position to advocate for the company to pay them their unpaid wages.

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    I think you missed the last paragraph of the question: "FWIW, I also handed in my resignation". Yes, being the only loyal person in such a situation could be a good career move, but they already decided they don't want to do that.
    – Philipp
    Dec 11 '20 at 8:56
  • @Philipp You're right, I did miss that line.
    – nick012000
    Dec 11 '20 at 8:57
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    How does undermining the old boss, who is already withholding work until everyone gets paid, "advocate for the company to pay [coworkers] their unpaid wages"? That's not advocacy, it's capitulation - giving away your only leverage and asking nicely will only make it less likely for anyone to get paid. Dec 11 '20 at 15:20
  • @NuclearHoagie It's not their only leverage - the threat of a lawsuit is the other leverage they'd possess.
    – nick012000
    Dec 12 '20 at 5:38
  • (-1) They are most likely not their “new boss” or even “bosses bosses” as those are two entities.
    – eckes
    Dec 12 '20 at 23:20
-11

What should I do now?

You should contact your HR department and let them handle this. None of this is your fault or your responsibility.

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    OP update mentions that there isn't HR. Not sure if that means no overseas HR as well, but we all know what they'd say.
    – jcm
    Dec 10 '20 at 21:23
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    Yeah sorry but no HR in the local company. As for the parent company I don't have much visibility about the structure of management there
    – Hai Nguyen
    Dec 11 '20 at 2:15
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    HR is there to protect the company.
    – DKNguyen
    Dec 11 '20 at 2:40

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