- onJuly 21, 2017
- Vol.36 Summer 2017
- byChang Kang-myoung
Tr. Teresa Kim 2015128pp.
Afternoon the next day, Eun-young called the girl into the conference room. She advised her that to work in corporate culture, you needed to be a “people” person.
The girl’s eyes welled up. “What does being a people person mean? People keep saying that I’m too curt, but I don’t understand. When a visitor comes, I know I should offer them refreshments but we don’t even have proper cups or saucers. It’s embarrassing to just offer something in a paper cup, without even a saucer, so that’s why I didn’t do anything. I didn’t know what to do. When I worked at the school, it was disrespectful to offer something in a paper cup.”
“You can just take in whatever. Or if you really don’t know, you could ask the president or the visitor. ‘What would you like to drink? Coffee or juice? Which would you prefer?’ Like that. Then it’s obvious what they’ll reply: ‘Anything is fine.’ Got it?”
“Last time, I brought a canned coffee to a visitor and they asked me if I was being rude.”
“It was probably a close friend of the president just joking with you. Wasn’t he laughing when he said it?”
“And it’s hard to ask the president anything. He’s so stoic, I feel intimidated talking to him. And a lot of the time, I can’t understand what he’s saying because his dialect is so strong and he talks too fast. And I’m too scared to ask him again.”
“Our president isn’t that stoic.”
“If I was able to at least buy a set of cups and saucers, then this wouldn’t even be a problem. But I’m not authorized to purchase anything. It feels unfair.” A tear ran down the girl’s cheek. “I didn’t know that the president was keeping such a close eye on me.”
“I’ll give you my purchasing card so you can go buy a set later. In any case, the president has talked to me on numerous occasions regarding your people skills.” (You should’ve gotten in trouble a lot more is what I’m saying.)
“I guess you got in a lot of trouble because of me.”
“Would you possibly consider working only in the mornings and getting paid 800,000 or 900,000 won a month? If you were preparing for an exam or something, this would work out better for you.”
The girl’s expression suddenly changed. Eun-young got the impression that all those tears had just been an act.
“Did the president say that? Is that what he’s suggesting?”
“Frankly speaking, the work you do doesn’t require you to sit at your desk all day. And I think it’d be easier for you to go for your treatments at the clinic. If you worked only four hours each morning and got paid 900,000 won, then your hourly pay would actually be higher.”
“It takes me an hour and a half to get to work. That’s three hours round-trip. If my monthly salary is cut then there’s no reason for me to continue working here. I still have outstanding student loans from my night classes. And, as for going to the clinic, I’m not going because I want to, but because I’m in pain. You can’t hold that against me.”
Eun-young said she understood and sent the girl back to her desk. The girl, who’d turned ice cold at the mention of a pay cut, once again put on a sad face, returned to her desk, and the large tears welled up again. The male employees noticed the girl crying, but no one dared to talk to her.
Eun-young couldn’t send a crying girl on an errand so she went to the bank herself. (People only care about a girl crying if she’s young and pretty. If you hadn’t made so many excuses, then I would’ve . . .)
It was the end of the month. Eun-young took a designer scarf she’d received as a gift but never used, put it in a paper bag, and went to work. The morning was busy again because it was the end of the month. The girl was staring at her computer screen with a blank expression. (Does she have to be like that until her very last day?)
After work, Eun-young gave the bag to the girl, saying that it was a gift. With a look of surprise, the girl took it.
“I thought it’d be nice if you had at least one item like this.”
“But why are you giving this to me?” The girl’s expression was like a child’s who’d just been caught lying by her mother.
“Because it’s your last day. I brought it as a farewell gift. I hope you like it.”
“My last day?”
Her act of feigning ignorance was so fake that Eun-young let out a laugh.
“I told you we only needed you until the end of the month. Are you going to say you don’t remember? That’s why we went to Outback for dinner together.”
“You told me you didn’t need my services anymore, but didn’t tell me an exact date.”
“You really don’t remember? I told you about three weeks ago in the conference room.”
“In the conference room, I remember you telling me that I had to quit working here. And I remember going to Outback. But you didn’t tell me exactly when I should stop coming to work. I was waiting, wondering when you’d give me my notice of dismissal.”
“Notice of dismissal?”
“When you fire someone, you have to give notice in writing. Even small neighborhood convenience stores do that. And we didn’t even talk about my severance pay or anything, so of course I didn’t think I was being fired right away.”
“Severance pay?” Eun-young asked, flustered. The girl kept an awkward smile throughout the whole conversation.
It was a good thing Eun-young didn’t ask why a temporary worker would get severance pay. According to regulations, even temporary workers were entitled to receive severance pay. When firing an employee, a notice of dismissal had to be given in writing to employees who’d worked over fifteen hours a week for more than one year. It had to be given thirty days in advance, stating a clear reason. In the event that a company was in violation of this, a civil complaint could be filed at the local labor relations commission. Then a summons would be sent to the president.
“I’m sorry. I should’ve looked into it more carefully,” Eun-young said. (She completely stabbed me in the back.)
“Just think of it as a good lesson learned. Hey, I just found out from you about the regulation. Things have gotten a lot better in Korea, I see.” The president laughed.
“I don’t think we can give a notice of dismissal now. Later on, she might turn it around and argue that it was a wrongful dismissal. We’re a company that has more than five employees, and the girl was a paid employee of ours for more than six months. To be safe, I recommend we pursue this as a suggested resignation.”
“So how much is the girl asking for?”
“If it’s a suggested resignation, we will have to compensate her for at least three months’ salary.”
“Give it to her. It’s fine. I have no regrets about the money. Do you know why?”
“Because I’m not giving the money to the girl, I’m giving it to you. And I regard you as someone who does the work she’s paid for.”
The girl received three months’ salary in cash and submitted her letter of resignation. On paper, it stated she’d work until the last day of the newly started month, but she stopped working the next day. As the president signed the approval papers, he said to tell the girl to take the money and stop coming starting tomorrow. Eun-young had planned on doing the same. If she saw the girl, it would only make her blood boil.
They hired a new temporary worker from an online job site: a fresh-faced young man. They hired him after double-checking that he was on a leave of absence from a reputable university in Seoul, didn’t live too far away, and came from a stable home. They gave him 750,000 won a month and had him work only in the mornings. They made it clear from the beginning that the employment period was only five months.
About two months later, an e-mail came from the girl: “I noticed that while I was employed at the company, I wasn’t registered for the four social insurance policies. I received a consultation from the online job site Albamon, and they said this was illegal and that in such cases, I could sue the company for failing to report my insurance deductions. But I don’t want to do that. Could the company just pay me the amount for the four insurances that they didn’t report?”
“And they said not to trust the two-legged beast . . .” Eun-young’s face was burning.
“What did the lawyer say?” her husband asked.
“That there’s no need for her to even file a suit. She just has to make an appeal to the labor administration or labor relations or whatever. The penalties are different depending on the insurance, but there’s a fine for the health insurance, and as for the worker’s compensation or employment insurance, there’s only a penalty, but no fine.”
“Then everything the girl said is right?”
“Yup. Crazy, huh?”
“What are you going to do? Are you going to tell the president?”
“I don’t know. What should I do? Should I tell him? The Germans are really sensitive about this type of stuff. Basically, they don’t trust the Korean employees. They think that we secretly break the law and embezzle funds. And since working conditions are really important to them, they have separate supervisors for this type of stuff. That’s why to them, this is huge. In order to save money, the Korean office hired a temporary worker but didn’t register them for the official insurance policies. And they didn’t even sign an official work contract. The girl knows all this. That’s why she sent the e-mail only to me.”
“What did the lawyer say?” Eun-young’s husband asked.
“That the best thing is to reach a settlement and pay her. But in return, to include in the settlement agreement that she is to take no further legal action or bring forth any issues regarding this in the future. But the money can’t come from the company because we can’t leave any proof. How much do you think she’ll ask for? 5 million? 10 million won?”
“No way. You think she’d ask for 10 million won? For this?”
“Our president’s yearly salary is 300 million won. If I ask him for 10 million in exchange for not reporting it to Germany, then he’ll probably pay.”
“Let’s do this: First, give the girl a call. Then ask her how much she wants. If she asks for less than 5 million then we can pay her ourselves. With a signed agreement. If she asks for more than 5 million then we’ll tell your president.”
“Are you okay with that?”
“I’ll just think of it as a loss in my stocks.”
“If you think about it, this is all because of that stupid Assistant Director Park.” Eun-young said through gritted teeth as she suddenly stopped while picking up her cell phone.
“This was a girl who, apart from being able to speak a bit of English, couldn’t do anything right. There are a lot of these types of girls in foreign companies. How could Park hire someone like this without even doing a proper background check? And a backstabber to boot.”
“You didn’t know that about her either.”
“You took pity on her and went easy on her. You underestimated her because she was poor and looked stupid and so you thought she was merely a naïve and weak victim. But that wasn’t the case. You said she’d had a string of temporary jobs. She’s learned from experience and knows the tricks of how to fight and survive in that world. If you think about it the other way around, in that world, we are the weaker ones. You and me both, we’ve never had to scuffle with the owner of a gas station over unpaid wages.”
Eun-young’s anger started to flare, but her husband was right. She bit down on her lip and called the girl.
“What did she say?”
Eun-young smirked. “She wants 1.5 million won.”
The two of them went for a drink that night.
“Seriously. People are scary.”
Eun-young put down her beer glass and sighed.
The next day, the girl came to the office, got the money, but didn’t leave even though she’d signed the agreement.
“Do you think I could get five copies of a certificate of employment?” The girl asked.
“Certificate of employment?”
“Yes. I forgot to ask last time.”
(If the company you’re applying to looks at the certificate of employment and contacts me for a reference check, then I’ll . . . No, forget it. There’s no need for me to tell you this. There’s also a world that only I know and you don’t.)
Eun-young clamped her mouth shut and printed out five English copies of the certificate of employment. The girl carefully examined the certificate.
“It says that I worked here as a ‘staff assistant.’ Could you possibly change that to ‘administrator’? When I worked here, I was the sole person in charge of general affairs, not an assistant to anyone.”
Eun-young made the changes as the girl requested. As the girl was leaving the office, Eun-young finally opened her mouth: “Was this the plan all along?”
The girl stopped. It seemed like she was at a loss for words. She just stood there, unable to move.
“Goodbye,” the girl said. Instead of giving a direct answer, the girl stood in front of the elevator after bowing good-bye.
While waiting for the elevator, the girl put her hand in her purse to check and make sure the envelope was there. She was scared that she might drop the envelope and lose it. (It would’ve been better if they’d wired the money to my account instead of giving it to me like this.) She planned on going to the bank as soon as she left the building. She was under pressure because she was late on her student loan payments. Her leg was still sore. She’d used all of her severance pay to get surgery for her ligament injury, but it didn’t seem like it’d gotten any better. The elevator door closed and she was all alone.
pp. 41-47, 59-77
Translated by Teresa Kim
Edited and reprinted with permission from Asia Publishers.
Chang Kang-myoung has published eight novels, one short story collection, and one essay collection. He has received the Surim Literary Award, Jeju 4•3 Peace Prize, and Munhakdongne Writer Award. Before turning to writing, he worked as a journalist for over a decade and received the Journalist of the Month Award from the Journalists Association of Korea, Kwanhun Club Press Award, and Dong-A Ilbo Press Award.