11 July 2024

What happens if one of your employees asks you for permission to take leave, to be with their terminally-ill parents or child one last time? An empathetic leader would be expected to approve it and manage the team’s workload.

This was not, however, the case for a luxury hotel employee in Khao Yai, whose story went viral within a day.

What really happened?

A hotel employee, named Ploy, sent a text message asking her immediate supervisor, known as Kob, to extend her leave in order to take care of her ailing mother. Her request was denied.

Even worse, she was told to return to work as soon as possible, which meant having to drive for hours, from her home province of Buri Ram back to Nakhon Ratchasima.

Fewer than 15 minutes later, Ploy’s mother died. So, she told Kob that she needed to take leave.

“So you’re going to resign?” her immediate supervisor responded. “Then tender your resignation letter when you’re back.”

The employee posted a screengrab of her chat exchange, which quickly sparked outrage on social media. So far, the post prompted more than 202,000 reactions, mostly angry faces, and 120,000 shares on Facebook.

Thousands of netizens expressed their sympathy for the employee, while also criticising her supervisor’s heartless actions. Some of them even went as far as exposing the supervisor’s identity on X (Twitter) and digging up her past toxic behaviour, pushing the hashtag #PeeKob (#พี่กบ) to among the top trending hashtags.

Subsequently, the Intercontinental Khao Yai Resort issued a statement yesterday (Thursday), claiming that they have suspended the immediate supervisor as they continue their investigation into their conduct and that they sympathise with and stand by the employee who lost her mother.

Despite this, the hotel’s official Facebook page was flooded with negative comments, with many of them demanding a thorough investigation over the incident, which prompted its page admin to turn off its comments section. The hotel also gained one-star reviews, which affected 65 hotels, located in other countries, in the same hotel chain.

Thailand’s Labour Minister, Suchart Chomklin, has also ordered the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare to investigate the case. Meanwhile, the Labour Protection and Welfare Office in Nakhon Ratchasima province has ordered the employer to explain the case on August 21st, when they will also look into the hotel’s policies for staff leave.

Even though the supervisor is yet to explain her own side of the story, her actions have already been condemned by the public.

What the Thai labour law says?

According to Thailand’s Labour Protection Act, employees can take no more than three days per year of “personal” leave, to do “necessary” errands “which must be done in person”.

Necessary errands range from attending funerals of family members, attending your own graduation ceremony, attending wedding ceremonies or ordinations of your own children to contacting government agencies and attending court cases.

Taking your children or your parents to see the doctor or to get vaccinated are also necessary errands, as it is considered a moral obligation. Therefore, taking personal leave to take care of your ailing parents is also allowed.

Under the labour protection law, taking personal leave is a basic right of all employees, including those on probation. If an employee has used up all three days of personal leave and needs an extension, they can still use their annual leave, which allows six days per year, according to the law. This will depend on negotiation with the immediate supervisor.

Where empathy lies?

Of course, many bosses do not like it when subordinates take leave at the same time, which is understandable. Many companies have been experiencing staff shortages, which is also understandable. The act of getting the work done should never, however, override humanity.

The way the immediate supervisor handled this situation screams “failure” in management, despite being at a ‘manager’ level.

If you’re being hired as a manager, it is part of your responsibility to share the workload among your colleagues and assign someone to cover the work when one of their colleagues is away.

It is true that employees should never take advantage of each other, using up their personal leave to unreasonably pile your work onto others but, in this case, it’s a completely different story.

Everyone has their own family and their own struggles, most of which are much more complicated than they meet the eye. Therefore, it is important for all of us to be kind and compassionate towards others, especially when they are experiencing difficult times, when emotional support is most needed.

In most cases, if an employee loses a family member, their immediate supervisors would allow them to take leave for several days – common sense based on sympathy.

Ultimately, no one should be put into a situation where they have to choose between work and an ailing loved one. No one should lose their job because someone lacks empathy for others.

By Nad Bunnag, Thai PBS World