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X. Employment Traps

A. Warning signs of an employment trap

There are many warning signs that an employment trap is in place. For example, a job that requires little related experience or qualifications but pays a high salary or bonus might suggest an employment trap being in place. Another sign includes manipulative interviews where employers ask extensive questions to collect unnecessary and personal information from the potential employees. Other signs include seminars and talks where victims are subject to group pressure to pay more money for courses or sell products. If companies provide little information about themselves or their products and services, this would be another warning sign of a possible employment traps. If after the interviews or seminars, potential employees are asked to keep the events confidential, this would be yet another warning sign. Usually, if employers invite potential employees to enrol in training courses for a fee (especially before work begins), this would indicate another imminent employment trap.

The following is a list of employment traps based on information from the Hong Kong Labour Department and various newspapers and university career advice centres:

1. Pyramid selling schemes

Some companies persuade and pressurise job seekers to buy their products in order to join the company. The job requires sharing commission (in a hierarchical way/pyramid selling), or the participants have to pay a large sum of money to get the job, and are required to make a profit through recruiting other members (including relatives and friends) as their lower tiered staff rather than directly selling the products.

Most of the reported cases of employment traps were related to the promotions field. Thus, there are ample examples of promotion related employment traps.

An example would be a job seeker who was persuaded to pay money to attend a seminar organized by a company, and then in the seminar he/she was asked to spend a significant sum on the company’s product. Knowing little about the products, the job seeker might be pressured, manipulated or persuaded to buy the products. The job seeker would then have bought products which he/she would not use, and which the job seeker does not know how to resell. The products bought from these job traps come in many shapes or forms, and they include health products, food products, and even services.

Another example is where job seekers are promised a job from a hiring company on the condition that the job seekers take some courses to upgrade their skills. The course must be paid for at the expense of the job seeker. The courses can range from language courses, presentation courses, or even leadership seminars. Usually, the courses that the job seeker paid for will not happen at all. Another possible event is that the job seekers never receive the job they were promised, even after finishing the course. These job traps usually operate on a hierarchical or multilayered recruitment plan. Job seekers who are already recruited would gain financial reward if they persuade friends or relatives intheir network to participate.

2. Talent scout scams

Some job scammers claim to be representatives from the entertainment industries (such as modeling agencies). The job scammers approach job seekers and claim that they have the potential to be models, singers and movie stars. However, conditions are imposed and must be met before they are able to start their careers. This includes having the job seekers pay fees for training classes and visits to the beautician. Other fees might include referral fees and deposits. The money paid might not be returned, or there might be no actual job referrals.

3. Financial and investment scams

Some job scammers claim to be brokers or traders of investment companies or claim to be holding high-level jobs in marketing firms. They then offer job seekers high pay for posts that require little prior experience and qualifications. Upon employment, the employees will be pressurised or manipulated to make investments with their own money or money from their friends and families. Eventually, the employers fraudulently tell the employee that their investments have failed.

4. Theft of personal data

Some scammers try to steal personal data for their own profit and benefit. The personal data are usually stolen through long, drawn out interview processes with multiple forms to fill in. The personal data that are fraudulently obtained include Hong Kong Identification Card number, bank accounts and credit card information. The scammers will then use the job seekers’ personal information to obtain loans from banks, or steal from their credit card accounts.

5. Employee versus self-employed person

While certain industries do have the custom of employing people as self-employed people, the category of self-employed person can be a job trap. Self-employed persons do not enjoy as many rights under the Employment Ordinance ( Cap. 57 ), the Minimum Wage Ordinance ( Cap. 608 ), the Employment Compensation Ordinance ( Cap. 282 ), and the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Ordinance ( Cap. 485 ). Self-employed persons do not enjoy paid annual leave, statutory holiday pay, sickness allowance, nor are they subject to minimum wage regulations and employment compensation. Employers might potentially take advantage of eager job seekers by offering them self-employed jobs, which might not have a signed contract. Job seekers should clarify with the employers regarding the nature of the employment, especially whether they are employed as an employee or as a self-employed person.

6. Paying below the minimum wage

All employee categories are subject to the statutory minimum wage as specified in the Minimum Wage Ordinance ( Cap. 608 ). This includes employees in full time and part time capacities. The only exemptions allowed are listed under the Minimum Wage Ordinance ( Cap. 608 ) for student interns and work experience students. All employers should pay the wages on time and the payment should not be less than the statutory minimum wage. Some employers might attempt to break the law by paying less than the minimum wage, whether or not the wage amount was specified in the contract. Thus, employees should ask the employers to clarify the amount of wages that are to be paid during the negotiation of contract. Underpaid or unpaid employees should approach the Labour Relations Division of the Labour Department.

B. Prevention against employment traps

There are a few methods by which job traps can be avoided. Generally, job seekers should make sure that the terms of the employment contract are understood before they sign it. If contractual terms are ambiguous or are unacceptable, job seekers should ask for clarification or require changes.

There are many specific methods to help you avoid becoming a victim of job traps:

1. Be realistic

Job seekers should be sensible about the rewards offered by the work (wages, bonuses, commissions) and what is required of the job seeker (in terms of prior experience, qualifications and work hours that need to be put in). Positions that offer unusually high pay but have low job requirements would be a warning sign. Another warning sign is when the recruitment process is conducted in a reckless manner.

2. Protecting personal data and privacy

Job seekers should be alert to avoid being manipulated or pressured into providing personal documents. These personal documents include Hong Kong Identity Cards, Passports, bank account numbers, records or passbooks, ATM pin numbers, and credit card information. The job seekers should be very cautious when they are asked to pay any money before they can be given the position, as it might simply be a scam to obtain their credit card and bank information for illegal gain.

3. Beware of the job nature and job duties

Job seekers should be wary of employment contracts that specify job duties that are different from those promised by advertisements and in job interviews. Another variation to be wary of is if the job is self-employment in nature and not an employer-employee relationship. Job seekers should be aware that it is not necessary to pay a fee as a condition for accepting a new job. Job seekers have the right to refuse an employment contract if they are not satisfied with it.

4. Doing due diligence

Many employment traps could be avoided if job seekers double-check the facts surrounding the job. For example, checking the business license of the company can reveal important information. If the company’s address is different from what is stated in their business license, then the company might be a fraud. Other warning signs of employment traps are if the business license has expired or if a business license cannot be produced. Due diligence can also be exercised regarding the products and the services of the company. If what the company actually sells (be it services or products) is different from what the interviewer and the job advertisement mentioned, then an employment scam might be in place. Job seekers can also cross check the job nature and position offered against those of other similar positions in the same industry. If the position offered deviates from the common practices of the industry in question, the job seeker should clarify this with the potential employer.

5. Seeking assistance

There are a multitude of people and authorities that job seekers can seek help from. When in doubt, individuals can bring a friend along if they believe that the interview location might not be safe. Career advisors and lawyers can be employed to examine the employment contract and advise on the legal issues of the job. Also, there are many authorities that could assist the employed after the employment has begun. When there is a labour dispute, the Labour Department can assist to resolve it between the employer and the employee. The Labour Department is empowered under section 43S of the Employment Ordinance ( Cap. 57 ) to investigate and prosecute alleged labour offences. If a serious crime has occurred in the course of recruitment and employment, the Hong Kong Police can be contacted to provide assistance.

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