Breaking contract with STIFF penalty

I’m sure you’ve heard this all before but I’m stressed as hell so bear with me…

Familiar story – against our better judgement my partner and I signed a shitty contract with a shitty school.

There’s no curriculum, no resources, no windows, layers of dust and dirt, I’ve been asked to teach in their attached kindergarten a few times, the manager’s teaching support is limited to ‘sing a song and play games’, and neither she nor the two Taiwanese teachers want to be there (one is leaving after this fall semester), etc. To the school’s credit, our manager is flexible, helpful to the extent of her limited abilities, and the environment is by no means abusive, just depressing as hell. We’ve been here about 8 months, my partner’s miserable, and we need to leave urgently for the sake of our mental health.

BUT our contract includes a whopping 45,000TWD/ person penalty 'deducted from outstanding pay’ if we terminate without 3 months notice or agreement from the school. Thanks to low pay and hours, this is more than our monthly paycheck :confused: . My understanding is, at the very least, withholding money from paychecks is illegal. When we brought this up before signing the contract, they said this penalty reflected the cost to hire a recruiter and wouldn’t be a problem if we helped find replacements, a provision which we insisted be written into our contract. They also added a provision noting that any disagreements would be settled in court…Clearly, we should never have signed that contract, whoops!

We gave our manager notice a month and a half ago (verbally…, while at the same time sending her a google doc link with a recruitment ad draft and links to 8 different websites for posting the ad). Since, I’ve done a few rounds of FB job board posts from which they received applications. They weren’t interested in most of them (not young and white enough) and were very, very slow to interview the couple of qualified people I encouraged them to. To my knowledge, they never made use of the job posting sites (including Tealit despite my offer to help). I learned today, thanks to a couple laughably inaccurate fb job board posts, that they hired a recruiter after all.

Not that it matters much, but we signed a year contract under an understanding with the school that we only planned to stay 6 months. The school was pretty desperate for people and agreed. At three months in, we thought we could make it a year. Turns out we were wrong.

We have plane tickets out of the country Oct. 15. Our housing is also in the school.

In an ideal world:
We leave the school in the next couple of weeks, they give us our final pay in full and help facilitate our tax refund (we don’t have pay stubs, just the deductions written on the envelope we receive our $$$ in), get an ARC extension, travel a little (we’ve only left the area we’re in once for a visa run months back), fly out Oct. 15.

My fears:
Even if they give us the full paycheck, they take our tax refund hostage instead. And/or they don’t supply us with documents for our ARC extension, putting us at risk of an overstay.

Even if we stayed at the school into October, I’m worried they’ll still withhold pay or collect from our tax refund. Also I’m not sure my partner has another 1.5 months here left in her. Quitting suddenly on payday (Sep 10) seems unfair to the kids (and Taiwanese teachers), doesn’t resolve the tax question, and I imagine complicates the ARC extension process. And again, we currently live in an apartment in the school.

Things that would be helpful to know:

  1. How do we go about collecting our tax refund without our employers assistance? Do we need to take paper pay stubs or just show up at the tax office with our ARC/ 健保卡 and flight confirmation a week before we leave the country? Will we have trouble receiving our refund without a Taiwan bank account?

  2. Hurdles applying for an ARC extension after a messy employer break-up?

  3. How does the timeline for potential legal troubles (either us filing a complaint for withheld wages or our employer suing us) impact our departure timeline and vice versa?

  4. Any other sage advice?

Yes, I will talk with my employer directly, but I’d like to go into that conversation knowing the law and what my options are. If you made it through all that, thank you!

You’ve said you’ve already competed 8 months of your contract. If the contract is for a year, that means you have less than 4 months left. You said they’re not abusive, you just don’t like it. Surely you can endure 4 more months at a job you dislike. I’d suggest just seeing it through and getting a new job after it’s over (you can start looking now). Yes, your visa status may be at risk if you break a contract prematurely. It might prohibit you and your partner from getting other employment in Taiwan for the foreseeable future. As for fines, I don’t know. I’m not sure the buxiban has the legal authority to impose a 45k NTD fine. But someone more in the know may see this thread and enlighten you about that. They would probably try and withhold your pay from however long you’ve worked since your last payday. We’ve all worked jobs we hated, but you’re already two thirds of the way through. It’s a buxiban and the negative stuff you described sounds pretty crappy (although the “no windows” stuff just sounds weird), but none of it is that unusual or, like you said, abusive. You’re not doing hard time at a prison. I’d just toughen up a bit and see it through personally. But if you do decide to leave make sure it’s right after a payday and be prepared to not be able to work in Taiwan for a while. They might not help with tax refunds or ARC extensions if you break contract.

Also, I don’t understand why you’d sign a year contract when you only intended to stay 6 months from the outset. The only thing binding is the legal document you sign, not a verbal agreement with the owner. Never do that again.

EDIT: Reading your post again, I see you did give notice. That improves the situation a bit. However from what you described, the owner doesn’t seem very receptive to your intention to leave. I’d fulfill the full notice time as outlined in the original contract (it’s usually listed as 90 days) to prevent the owner weaseling out of any of the severance conditions and to hopefully not mess up your visa status here.

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If you have such a request from your employer in writing, that’s all you need for a no-advance-notice termination.

I’ll write more later.

Of course, it helps to check with a lawyer and/or the local labor department…

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How the hell can they take your tax refund hostage? You want a tax refund? Go to the tax office and file. You need no paperwork.

Wow, that’s crazy. I’m starting to suspect one of the reasons Taiwan’s economy is so stagnant.

To the OP. You’re in the wrong here in a few ways - just give the 3 months notice, find the replacement (your efforts there were laughable), tough it out, or pay the penalty.

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A couple points:

  1. Employers are not legally allowed to withhold pay for breaking contract penalties. They are legally obligated to give you your entire paycheck and then ask you to pay the penalty to them. A lot of employers assume that foreigners do not know this, so they just take it out of your pay check unless you tell them that you know it is illegal to do so. So, the first thing you should do is tell your employer that you know it is illegal to withhold pay, and that you will contact the labor department if they try do so.

  2. Taxes should not be an issue. Assuming your employer didn’t do anything shady and conceal your employment hours in anyway, the tax office will have an electronic record of your employment hours/pay.

  3. Your big issue is whether you want to return to Taiwan. If you do, you will need to sort everything out legally before leaving. A lot of the penalties in buxiban contracts are not enforceable for a variety of reasons, but you would need to get a lawyer to argue on your behalf, and that can get expensive. The other professional option is to contact the labor bureau and tell them your situation. They can set up a mediation session between you and your employer that is free of charge. Most likely, your employer would either be pressured into waiving the penalty or negotiating a lower amount.

  4. If you don’t want to return to Taiwan, then none of this matters. Just demand your pay (which the employer cannot withhold legally) and tell your employer you will pay the penalty. Then just leave without paying it. There’s nothing your employer can do, other than suing you in Taiwan, but it won’t matter if you never come back. Personally, I wouldn’t do this, but many people have.

So, my suggestions, in order of most beneficial outcomes:

  1. Just stick out your contract. It really makes the most sense. It isn’t that long and involves no hassle.

  2. If you really must leave, contact the labor bureau NOW and explain your whole situation. Then tell your employer that you have contacted the labor bureau. Make clear that you expect to be paid in full before needing to pay any penalty. Then tell your employer that you think the penalty is not enforceable. If she insists, you can set up mediation.

  3. If you don’t care about returning to Taiwan, just make a fuss until you get your paycheck and then leave (I really don’t recommend this, but it’s your life).

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I second your points above, @Mac_Jay, except leaving without paying the penalty. I know you don’t recommend it (as you said in your post), but just suggesting it can give some wrong ideas. :thinking:

This would help OP to solve their own problem, but foreigners that are still in Taiwan will have to deal with the consequences. I’m not saying that we’ll have to pay the penalty ourselves, but it will definitely not help in improving our already damaged image in the society. :expressionless:

It’s because of people running away from the island that we have problems opening bank accounts, getting credit card, finding a place to rent, signing a mobile contract, etc…:sleepy:

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I agree with this in general, but as for these shitty contract slave penalties, I absolve anyone of responsibility for my personal consequences

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No, no it’s not. It’s because of basic xenophobia.

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That too.
Let me rephrase it:

Good work.

Thank you for the replies so far.

We’ve tried toughing it out. That’s why we’re still here. Unfortunately, staying another 4 months (or 2 months) isn’t an option for my partner without further significantly impacting her mental health (our living situation at the school and location we’re in are definitely compounding issues but not worth getting into).

Choosing between staying in a situation damaging her quality of life and mental health or forfeiting more than 1 month’s salary to leave a shitty job (that was misrepresented to us), even after giving 2 months notice is a lousy position to be in and not entirely legal. It’s not like they paid for airfare, training, or our ARC. Our take-home pay has ranged between 22K and 33K, so we’d really like to hold onto as much money as we can.

I mention doing a runner because it’s factually an option, but decidedly not one I want to take. I’m not interested in :banana:ing over my students or the Taiwanese teachers, and would like to leave the option of returning to Taiwan open.

I posted to every facebook group I could find, with accurate information, about as regularly as groups allow. I offered to post the advert on other websites on the school’s behalf but my manager didn’t authorize me to and rejected my efforts to help her navigate them. Not sure what other avenues I should have pursued.

Per the tax refund, our employer insinuated that we needed their assistance with this. The 45K TWD penalty happens to be the same figure she cited as the average refund teachers received in the past. I was/ am suspicious the school will helpfully suggest instead of withholding money they can just apply for the tax refund on our behalf and keep the money. This outcome, at least, seems avoidable.

It looks like the next steps are to have a frank conversation with our employer and see how serious they are about enforcing the penalty, contact the labor bureau, and prepare for the possibility of mediation if we can’t sort things out on our own. How long does a mediation process take? I assume we must be in the country while it’s ongoing?

[edited by mod]

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What the actual :banana:?

[edited by mod]

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I was about to reply the exact same thing. That’s slave wages.

Also, your apartment is IN the school? What the hell is that about?

Your employer could only do this if you legally give them proxy to file taxes for you. As long you haven’t (I assume you haven’t), you’ll be fine.

The labor bureau will contact your employer within a day or two of you speaking to them (they have to follow up on any complaints). Mediation will be scheduled not long after that if it is necessary. You most certainly need to be at the mediation. To be clear, the bureau would not in any way be representing you, so you definitely need to be there. Based on what you have described, there is a good chance that the bureau representative at the mediation would strongly suggest to your employer to waive the penalty. The representative does not have the authority to force your employer to do anything. He/she is there to make recommendations based on how he/she thinks the legal process would unfold if your situation were to be litigated. I know an employee who went through this process. Rational employers will just drop the penalty because of the hassle that litigation involves (especially if they have legal council that can point out such costs). If your employer is too emotional and doesn’t have proper legal council accompany him/her to the mediation, he/she might not drop the matter.

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Yeah, this is EXTREMELY low for a foreigner who is teaching English. What are your hours (and is that why there’s an 11k range)? Also, you and your partner each make 22-33K a month, not combined 22-33K, correct?

Why are you living at the school? Is this a term in your contract, or is it free of cost and supposed to be a “perk” of the contract?

I’m sorry if this is offensive, but the facts of your situation are quite odd for a foreigner in Taiwan. Most foreigners would not take a job with the pay rate and situation that you described. Is there something I (and other posters) are missing about the situation? Also, is there anything strange in the contract (other than the early termination penalty)?

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Fair point, and I agree. I probably should have left that out.

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22k NTD pay a month and have to live at that school (which has no windows)… was the recruiter who landed you this dream gig named Bryan Wu by any chance?

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The advertised salary was 55K, based on 20-25 hours a week. Actual hours have been 14-18, closer to 14 during the summer. A number of those hours come from one-on-one students through the school who constantly cancel last minute because they have a test, are on a family picnic, eating noodles, etc. 22k - 33k (each) has been the pay after taxes, health insurance, ‘utilities’ (mini-rent), and my scooter rental (1000k) have been deducted. The 22k reflects a month during which my partner had to take a week’s leave due to a nasty stomach flu.

Living in the school (or rather the kindergarten the buxiban is attached to) was presented as a perk. The apartment does have windows (the buxiban does not)! But the makeshift kitchen doesn’t have a sink. We went with it because we thought it would balance out the low pay grade (600/ hr), the prior teachers we corresponded with presented it as a perk, it’s a 3 minute walk to work, and meant not dealing with the hassle of a lease. No one mentioned the children singing outside our window at 9am every morning.

We thought the location would be interesting and the timing lined up well with the end of our one-month Airbnb rental we set up when we came to Taiwan. In retrospect, we were naive, missed plenty of red flags, accepted clauses in our contract we should have insisted removed or walked away. Let this be a cautionary tale :confused:

Bryan Wu was not the recruiter and I don’t think there’s anything else hiding in the contract.

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Oh come now. Who wouldn’t want to be serenaded by a choir of young children every morning? :joy:

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