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The boss at CompanyInc has said that if employee X takes her planned holiday with me (one week, planned three months ago), then no one in the company will be paid. This has been conveyed as a "threat-fact", along with all staff working unpaid overtime and a seven day week until the deadline. All this is without any compensation - lost holiday money for flights and so on won't be paid, not to mention the various friends and family who have booked holiday time to coincide with this week.

The holiday time was originally agreed with the consideration there might be crunch time for a deadline if the backlog wasn't complete. However, the project has colossal scope creep, with new features constantly added to the backlog. Bad management in the normal case, but here I feel it's being exploited very unfairly.

The company is very young, and I believe it does have serious money issues, and that meeting the deadline probably will get them some external funding. Even though my inclination here is to run for the hills and find a new workplace, it's impractical due to Finnish employment laws. Any advice on resolving the situation amicably (or possibly legally in the long run) would be greatly appreciated.

closed as off-topic by gnat, Chris E, Jim G., Garrison Neely, Michael Grubey Jan 23 '15 at 12:33

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave these specific reasons:

  • "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better. For more information, click here." – gnat, Chris E, Michael Grubey
  • "Questions seeking advice on company-specific regulations, agreements, or policies should be directed to your manager or HR department. Questions that address only a specific company or position are of limited use to future visitors. Questions seeking legal advice should be directed to legal professionals. For more information, click here." – Jim G., Garrison Neely
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    They do this in Finland? – ingo Jan 21 '15 at 14:54
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    Hi Bomadeno, welcome to the Workplace SE! Unfortunately, we're not well placed to answer questions about legal issues here, so we won't be able to help with resolving the situation legally or not losing unemployment support. I suggest reframing your question to focus on an amicable resolution, which is something we can help with. :-) – user29632 Jan 21 '15 at 15:00
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    Not sure on the legal side but I know I would be looking for a new job immediately. Either the company is in financial trouble or the boss is tyrannical but either way it spells trouble. – RubberChickenLeader Jan 21 '15 at 15:05
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    Legally, as other's have stated, that's up to a lawyer in your jurisdiction. In terms of resolving that kind of attitude from bosses: don't bother. Update the resume and find a saner place to work. – DA. Jan 21 '15 at 16:51
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    If the company's future depends on one single employee not taking a one week vacation, then the company is already DOA. – GrandmasterB Jan 21 '15 at 20:12
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Obviously there's more to this situation that legal commitments, but with the caveat of saying I'm no expert on Finnish law, I can point you a resource. The Annual Holidays Act

Which for qualifying employees says:

The notification of the timing of the annual holiday is binding on the employer. The employer does not have any unilateral right to cancel the holiday or any part of it, or to change the timing of the holiday on which notification has been given or any part of it, without the consent of the employee. An employer changing the timing of the holiday unilaterally must reimburse the employee for expenses incurred as a result of the cancellation of the holiday (for example, cancellation of tickets).

Unfortunately, the bigger problem is that CompanyInc sees management failures as a stick to beat employee X with.

I think the other answers have already handled that, but I'll pitch in in general terms.

Normally I'd suggest something like "work hard, draw a line and stick to it, push back over the holiday" etc etc. However: "then no one in the company will be paid". This is a massive red flag. Your friend's company is on the precipice to the extent that they do not care what professional relationships they destroy. Huge numbers of startups fail and, given the ineptness already demonstrated, I would not bank on this one succeeding. Employee X should start looking for another job, before this one disappears from under their feet, there really is no other option. Make sure they have internet on the plane. Enjoy your holiday.

  • "then no one in the company will be paid" This comment alone is a reason to bail. It's effectively blackmail and shows serious moral and ethical concerns. That said, even if the finances are sound, if she's being threatened in this manner, it's not hard to imagine the same threat being given to someone else in her office. – RualStorge Jan 22 '15 at 18:18
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The problem here is twofold. First you are unlikely to have a case for the vacation being cancelled as you said:

The holiday time was originally agreed with the consideration there might be crunch time for a deadline if the backlog wasn't complete.

So the time off was conditional on something that wasn't met. Therefore if you took the vacation anyway, it is likely you would not be paid or possibly fired depending on the local labor laws.

However, the coworkers would almost certainly have a case if he does indeed not pay them for time worked due to someone else taking vacation. I can think of no legal jurisdiction where that would be acceptable. However, it would likely involve a legal battle. They should consult their local government agency that handles labor issues or a labor lawyer.

Frankly, I would look for another job as soon as possible. I would talk to your local government Labor department (not sure what this would be called in Finland - hmm google says Ministry of Employment) about the the situation and see what your rights are as far as breaking your contract. I am not sure they could keep you if he chooses to stop paying as that could well be breech of contract on his side. But that is a matter for local labor law.

  • Should the vacation still be cancelled, considering that since making the agreement, (when the backlog was estimated 2/3 of the time to the deadline, 1/3 for dealing with unforeseen problems) features have been added to the point of being over-budget, even if the holiday is skipped? As I understand there was no explicit agreement "this backlog as it stands now", but I would read that implicitly. – Matt Bond Jan 22 '15 at 7:44
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    @Bomadeno: I think the vacation should be skipped. Not because she needs to make a herculean effort but rather because I fully believe given what you've said that there won't be a job to come back to and she needs to use this time to find a new place to work. – NotMe Jan 22 '15 at 15:13
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This is a very poor way to treat people.

If your boss gets away with this today they will keep getting away with it. Make sure everyone in the business is clear that tomorrow it will be their holiday and present a united front.

If you give in, you could end up with no holiday and it's by no means guaranteed that the week in question will be the time when the work hits. I often find when rearranging holiday to suit work, what worked for work changes by the time I take the holiday.

Your colleague should immediately seek advice from her union representative, but I'm guessing she should probably (subject to that advice) send the manager something like:

I'm sorry but this was a holiday booked with your permission. It is not possible for me to change my plans on this occasion.

We all need a break and this was when we agreed mine would be. This has been planned for some time and you have had ample opportunity to make appropriate arrangements to ensure this would not disrupt the work.

You have threatened not to pay me and my colleagues if I take this holiday. This is a very serious threat. As you know, I and my other colleagues are already very flexible and supportive of the business and this is not a professional way to treat your staff.

I understand this is a stressful time and that your words might have been said in frustration. I suggest we focus on solving the problems that we can within the time that we have instead of creating new ones.

The only (legal) risk to your colleagues as far as I can see is in terms of the business itself doing so poorly that the business has to close (but I do not know Finnish employment law, consult your rep as above). If it's that close to happening then, frankly, with this management, that's probably going to happen anyway sooner or later.

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I appreciate @Chris Lively's response as it provides good context for the situation. However, the fact that startups are crazy isn't an excuse for not living up to contractual obligations. As Chris pointed out, it should be priority #1. In this case, this priority is sacrificed to the priority of meeting a deadline.

In this case these are interdependent goals, where lack of funding may be a consequence of missing a deadline. However, this situation should not have arisen in the first place, and the fact that it did is not your responsibility, but the owner's. This should have been anticipated and a plan B had to be in place. You are not saving the world here, you are merely working to enhance the wealth of a few individuals at the top. That's all. The craziness of a startup does not cancel its legal obligations or weaken your legal rights.

So as a matter of principle, I would recommend to call them on it. Take the planned vacation with the other employee. The worst that can happen is the boss will learn a lesson about managing within constraints such as employee time off.

The promise that "nobody will get paid" is dubious because it is illegal, and you can hint to the boss that you have avenues for remedying the situation through legal means that will have negative long-term impact on the company (complaints with local chamber of commerce/small business association, official complaint filed with the court, opinion article in local newspaper, etc.)

If you let it slide and bend over to meet boss's demand, this will only send a message that such tactics work just fine with you and your colleagues, and will only reinforce such behavior.

Is this something you want to do, and will you feel comfortable working for a company that can pull off this sort of thing? I don't think you will miss them if you will have to leave. So in the long run the joke (of prioritizing deadlines over people) will be on them.

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Startups are crazy. I know, I've worked for several and currently have my own. These are not places where the "normal rules" apply. Meaning, if Sally takes a week off then likely anything Sally was working on won't be picked up by someone else - there is no "fat" here, everyone is required. Point is that if there is a looming deadline and a member of the team takes a holiday, then this can have very real consequences for everyone else. That vacation notice given three months ago probably seemed so far off that the owner didn't give it a second thought. But now it's here and causing a problem.

Startups are crazy. One day everything looks peachy, then just one day later everything is burning. I've seen this type of roller coaster ride happen several times in a single day. This makes for a very stressful environment that not very many people can handle.

Startups are crazy. Let me rephrase that: you have to be crazy to start a business. It's hard, really really hard. On the one hand the founder(s) have a vision, on the other reality intrudes. This "reality" is that startups often have to deal with tremendous scope creep just to sign a deal. At some point you'll have enough real paying clients to be able to "just say no" to that newly demanded feature. It doesn't sound like this particular business is there yet. Half of our primary product was built for these reasons and many other companies have completely changed direction based on what they could actually sell.

Startups are crazy. There are times where the bank account approaches (or worse, passes) $0. When this happens the founders have to make a conscious decision to either give up or push through. Whatever happens the founder(s) #1 job is to ensure that everyone is paid. I've been there. I've put my own salary on hold for months just to ensure that my people are paid. I've laid off good strong employees because I knew I could pay them now but in 30 days the likelihood of having enough cash was really low. I've begged clients to pay invoices a month or two early and I've borrowed money from family just to make payroll.

It would be trivial to say this is the founders problem. However it's actually everyone's. The entire staff has to want to see this succeed. Which means showing up to work and doing everything you can to make it happen... including changing plans.

Startups are crazy. Because of the emotional joy ride they can be both incredibly fulfilling and the absolute worst experience of your life. Even at the same time; and few people are willing to subject themselves to this. I like to call those people "sane", but as a founder I'm probably not qualified to judge.


My advice: If the employee isn't comfortable working in an environment like this then they need to find their exit as quickly as possible. I'd suggest they cancel the trip no matter what and focus on the day job while locating a new place to work.

If the employee is happy in this environment then I'd suggest they cancel the trip and buckle down to do everything they can to make this deal work.

Is it right or even fair? No, not really. However "right" and "fair" have little to do with trying to get a new company off the ground. The question she needs to ask herself is "how far is she willing to go to see it succeed?"

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    I have to disgree, normal legal rules still apply. The employees are not your slaves. The behavior of the company is simply unacceptable. – HLGEM Jan 21 '15 at 21:26
  • @HLGEM: I never said "legal". My meaning was really about work expectations such as having a vacation request approval honored. Are they slaves? no. If you have a choice to leave then you are never a slave. Do people work more than 40 hours in young startups? absolutely, it's often necessary to keep things going. Does the owner have an obligation (legal/moral/ethical) to pay the employees regardless of how things play out? absolutely. Will the owner be able to? Doesn't sound like it. – NotMe Jan 21 '15 at 22:55
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    Telling people they might not get paid becasue you have no money is far differnt than threatening to not pay other people if one goes on an approved vaction. This isn't startup culture, this is vindictive management. – HLGEM Jan 21 '15 at 23:13
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    The company is a startup, yes. If the boss had a clear vision, an honest "we need you to meet it" mentality, and an intention to reward that commitment, I'd support X skipping the holiday. However, the boss has not said "you can't take it or we'll fail", just "if you take it and we do fail, I'll blame you". They need to deliver to get the check, but I think the boss is trying to use X as a scapegoat for his own poor management of scope. It's worth noting, they have 54 man-weeks of work estimated, and a team of 6 working for a deadline 1.5 calendar weeks away. – Matt Bond Jan 22 '15 at 7:27
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    You keep saying "Startups are crazy" as if that is the only place where this situation occurs. This occurs all the time in ALL types of businesses. Startups are no exception. Managers the world over believe that employees should dedicate their lives to the sole purpose of getting the job done. Life doesn't work that way. Employees have lives outside of work and companies (including startups) have to respect that. If one person taking off for one week is going to make all the difference then that person giving up their life isn't going to matter. The company is doomed anyways. – Dunk Jan 23 '15 at 20:32