Startups are seen as places where employee rights are at the forefront – there are usually no fixed working hours, no dress codes, and no unnecessary hierarchical procedures. In the past few years, people have joined the startup wave in droves, enamoured by the promise of better working conditions and more substantive work. However amidst the unstructured and disruptive environment that startups operate in, employee rights often fall by the wayside.
Startup asks employee to work for no pay after he returns from sick leave
[redacted], a Bangalore based software design and development company, recently asked an employee to work for them for four months – without any pay. Rajeev Kumar (name changed) had been with the company for almost a year. He’d been performing well – his ratings had been above average, and he was leading a project for a major electronics brand. Midway through the project, he was handed responsibility for another project. Close to the delivery date, Rajeev fell ill and had to take 2 weeks off.
When he returned, he was asked to work without a salary for 4 months. He was also given a new role, which was not commensurate with his skills or past experience. He was put in the unenviable position of quitting or choosing to accept this very unfair arrangement. His absence had caused an important project to be delayed, and Rajeev feels this was the company’s way of getting back at him. However, he claims that him taking the leaves was justified – he had official leaves remaining when he took the time off ([redacted] offers 10 earned leaves and 5 sick leaves – Rajeev says he took 9 earned leaves and exhausted his sick leaves).
Disturbingly, [redacted] did not give this arrangement to him in writing, but only communicated this to him verbally. Having an employee work without pay is illegal in India under the Payment of Wages Act 1936 which requires that employees receive wages, on time, and without any unauthorised deductions. Faced with the prospect of not earning a salary for 4 months, Rajeev had no choice but to quit and look for a new job. When contacted, [redacted] denied all knowledge of this incident.
Startup doesn’t pay intern; threatens to withhold certificate when he protests
Such irregular practices are not isolated in the startup world. Another startup, EduApps, reportedly denied payments to an intern. They’d initially delayed his stipend citing tax issues. Later they told him that they’d pay the entire amount at the end of his internship. When his internship ended, he was told that his work would be evaluated and he’d get the money once the evaluation was complete. Several emails and calls yielded nothing. They threatened to not release his internship certificate when he protested. The intern still hasn’t received payments to the tune of 40-45k. When contacted, EduApps denied all charges.
Startup offers job then goes silent
Yet another startup, NowFloats, promised a candidate a job after a series of interviews. She’d been given detailed information about the work she’d do and the company had shared internal emails with her. She was then invited her to the company’s offsite in a different city, at her own expense. This was touted to be an “introduction to the team.” Once the offsite was over, the candidate never heard back from the company for weeks. When she pressed for a response, she was told that she didn’t have a job and the offsite had been a part of the interview process.
While millions of people will attest that their jobs at startups are fulfilling and rewarding, it’s also worth bearing in mind that startups often don’t have rigid procedures and processes in place while dealing with employees. This can lead to situations where employee rights might be infringed upon. The freedom and increased responsibility that startups promise might come at a price.