My ErgoGroup Experience – How to Lose 60% of Your Salary

I’ll tell you the answer to the last question right away – start working for ErgoGroup in Norway. I did, last summer, and I was screwed for 60% of my promised salary.

Here’s what happened.

My wife and I had a great apartment that we loved very much but we were only renting. So, when the landlord said they wanted to sell and asked us if we wanted to buy, I ran down to the bank to apply for a loan.

After spending a full year doing nothing but writing, my income was less than desirable, so the bank said I needed a permanent job to get a loan. So, I answered a couple of phone calls then next few days and within a week I had multiple offers from apparently great companies, one of which was ErgoGroup.

Since the bank also owned ErgoGroup, I thought it would be a good idea to start at ErgoGroup, even though the salary I would get there was the lowest of the offers I had. So, after discussing terms for a couple of weeks, I signed the contract.

That was my first mistake.

The Contract Mistake

Basically, I would get one part of my salary, about 40% of the total salary, as a fixed salary and the rest, somewhere around 60%, as a bonus, depending on how much I earned for ErgoGroup. From the models I received by email and from my knowledge of how much I worked and was capable of working, it seemed like a fair deal, although it was definitely a huge leap down the pay ladder from consulting.

The mistake, however, was to sign the contract as it was presented. The contract only referred to the bonus agreement, but didn’t specify the terms. More or less literally translated, the contract said ‘This position has a bonus agreement as per the standard terms’. Since I had learned about the standard terms, and even had a specific example of what I would make given a certain level of earning, I thought this was OK.

On September 1, 2009, I started working at ErgoGroup, looking forward to a long time not having to chase the next project, the next payment, or risk losing money on non-paying clients.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

The Trust Mistakes

Notice the plural noun here.

I trust people quickly and I believe that by default, most people deserve that trust. I also distrust quickly and if I distrust you, you’ll have to work a very long time to earn the trust again. I don’t know how long exactly because no-one I’ve ever distrusted have managed to earn that trust again.

I trusted ErgoGroup by default, thinking that they would have nothing to gain from screwing me over. Earning a few extra coins at the cost of disgruntled employees didn’t seem to make sense to me. After all, ErgoGroup is a big company, owned by the government, with much to lose if their reputation is tainted.

After working for the first month, I had reached my bonus target. However, a couple of days later, my boss came and told me that one of the projects I had worked on wasn’t cleared for time consumption, so we had to move about 30 hours to October. Thus, I got no bonus, but at least, I’d get an even bigger bonus the next month.

In October, I really got up to speed. I clocked over 310 hours that month, including about 50 hours learning about SharePoint 2010. That, of course, was far from the amount of time I actually spent learning SP2010, but the number I put in was a reasonable amount to attribute to the skills gained and thus benefiting to ErgoGroup. With the 30 hours from September, I was set for a big bonus.

My boss again came to me and said that, while he didn’t doubt any of the hours spent, he and ErgoGroup would get into serious trouble with the authorities if anyone found out how much I was working. You see, in Norway, being the socialist pigs we are, we cannot work as much as we like because it would be unfair to all the other unemployed SharePoint consultants that are on social welfare. (If you don’t understand that irony, here’s a hint: There are no unemployed SharePoint consultants in Norway.)

So, my boss removed most of the non-billable work from my time sheet to bring the number of working hours down. Fine by me, I mostly make money from billing customers in any case. As a side note, the entire department had been specifically instructed not to write down any non-billable hours. Again, all fine, as it allowed all of use to work more and there was less paperwork to file.

However, when I asked what happened to the 30 hours from September, I didn’t get a response, or at least, no response that made sense to me. To this date, I have no idea what happened to those hours, but I know I never got them added to my time sheet. Sadly, neither did I get the “we’ll add it later” statements in writing.

Note: The 30 hours are lost and they are my claim alone, one I cannot back up with any solid evidence. For the rest of the claims in this blog post, I have tons of supporting emails, letters, and contracts. 

In the meantime, around October 12, I started requesting to see the bonus “standard terms”. I sent an email to the HR department asking for how the bonus system worked and if there was some way I could track the bonus. I never received a reply.

Then came the big payout day in November where I would get the bonus for October (and hopefully the 30 hours from September).

I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t get any bonus at all, only the base salary, after working almost three times as much as normal. Something was very wrong.

So, I asked my boss why I didn’t get the bonus. He told me that I had to remember that, per ‘the standard terms’, bonus is only calculated after each quarter so I wouldn’t get bonus until January! Not only that, but rather than pay bonus per month, they would average the bonus for the three months of the quarter and pay based on that.

Wow, how could I remember that? I still hadn’t even seen the ‘standard terms’.

“Well,” I thought, “there’s no chance I won’t be getting a bonus each month, so it doesn’t matter. The money will be delayed, but I’ll get a massive payout in January.”

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I did ask for an advance on the bonus, though, calculating what my bonus should be and deducting a certain percentage from that to ensure there was a buffer in case I wouldn’t get bonus for the remaining months.

Skip forward to late November and a scheduled talk with my boss. Employee regulations in Norway require periodic talks between employee and employer to figure out if anything is wrong. Basically, I got good feedback on my work, and I mentioned that I was happy, except the surprises with the bonus, and that I hadn’t seen the bonus ‘standard terms’ after almost three months. The only complaint I got was that I needed to work less so ErgoGroup wouldn’t get into trouble and that I wouldn’t reach the maximum bonus.

My boss sent an email to the HR department, asking what was going on and why I hadn’t gotten the contract yet. Still, we didn’t receive any response.

Wait! Let’s rewind a bit. Did I just say maximum bonus?

It turns out, I learned after asking my boss what the hell he was talking about, that there is a limit to how much bonus you can get. In fact, the limit was 1,5 times your monthly base salary, per quarter.

Heck, I was making 1,5 times my base salary every month, and now I was at the end of November, learning that I wouldn’t get any bonus from the beginning of November and the rest of the year, at least according to those elusive ‘standard terms’.

With all that had gone on and with the new information about the maximum allowed bonus, basically stating that I would be able to earn a bonus only one month each quarter, I sent in my resignation, stating that I would leave the company by the end of my trial unless I got a deal I could live with.

Then, disaster struck, and my father-in-law almost burned down the house, including him
self. My wife an I rushed to Stange, about 70 miles north of Oslo, to take care of my mother-in-law and help out. It put an extra burden on our economy, so I asked ErgoGroup for an advance on the bonus that I had already earned.

Again, I didn’t get a response, and, of course, no advance either.

So, on December 23rd, with Christmas looming and no money in the bank, I asked my boss about the advance. He said he’d sent it to the HR department and that they were now the final deciding part. I sent an email to the HR department asking what took so long and also asking, yet again, about the ‘standard terms’.

The response I got shocked me. In short, it read, ‘We don’t give advances on bonus in ErgoGroup. Regarding the standard terms, your boss should have given you those’.

Needless to say, I sent in my immediate resignation. My last day with Ergo would be January 8, 2010. The big bonus payout on January 12 would then be my last, which also meant I would get my vacation pay, which, in Norway, is about 12% of your salary, including bonus.

By the way, after I sent my resignation, it only took three hours before I was on my way to the first interview for a new job. As I said, there are no unemployed SharePoint consultants in Norway, for a very good reason. Luckily, we’re in extreme demand. Potential employers even called on Christmas eve, asking whether I could come on an interview the next day (December 25).

ErgoGroup was very eager to keep me, and frankly, with the exception of the bonus and salary mess, I was very happy working there. So, when they asked for a final chance to get a new contract in place, I accepted and we met on January 7. I was also told that I would finally get the ‘standard terms’.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

When I came in for the final meeting, I got the ‘standard terms’ and they were nothing like I was promised.

First, the bonus rate was much lower than I was promised (and have in writing) prior to beginning.

Second, ErgoGroup would hold back 25% of the bonus as a buffer in case clients didn’t pay.

Third, 10% of the bonus would be held back pending the result from the entire department. If the rest of the people didn’t do their part, I would lose 10% of my salary.

Fourth, if ErgoGroup as a company made less than a certain amount of profit, I would forfeit my entire bonus.

No wonder they didn’t want to present those terms to me before I signed.

Want to know the level of my patience? I still went to the meeting, hoping that we could make some progress. And, after all, just a few days later, I would get three months of bonus.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I had to go to Dubai the next week, but agreed to postpone the resignation in case we managed to agree to new terms. However, on January 12, the day I would finally get paid, I got just the base salary again.

I sent an email asking what it was this time, and I was told that no one got their bonus because ErgoGroup hadn’t been able to finish calculating its profits in time, so they didn’t know if I, or anyone, would get any bonus at all.

Well, let’s just stay I started reading the ‘standard terms’ with very careful eyes. That’s when I saw it.

If I resign, for any reason, I also lose all my bonus. This, of course, they tell me for the first time on January 7 2010, two weeks after I had resigned.

Since Then

In Norway, employee protection is extremely good. This sort of thing should never be allowed to happen. However, apparently, ErgoGroup haven’t spent much time reading up on their employees rights and at least tried to screw me over, big time.

If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I don’t take crap like this without a fight. I’ve hired a lawyer from Advokatfirmaet Staff who will assist me in suing ErgoGroup. The paperwork goes out in a few days, after five months of fruitless negotiation.

After I quit, I received a letter from ErgoGroup stating that they would be generous enough to not hold me to the terms about not paying anything if I resigned. They probably expect me to be thankful that they waive their claims that they can come, six months after the fact, and say that I’m not getting paid if I quit.

By reading this blog post you have incurred a bill of $100 which you can pay to my PayPal account. You must also write a blog post saying I’m your greatest hero and that you’ll name your first born child after me. I should have told you before you started reading, but hey, these are the terms now and you must accept them. Want to know the extent of my kindness? I’ll waive the $100 if you agree to do the rest.

Since I quit, I’ve received, as final settlement, almost $250 (two hundred and fifty US dollars). ErgoGroup claims that the sum covers the 12% vacation payment, my entire bonus, and any claims I may have. I wonder what the sum would have been if they hadn’t been ‘kind’ enough to waive their post-mortem no-pay claim; would they have charged me for working there?

Yeah, I held on to the computer I got from them for 1,5 months after I quit; after all, I had to use my own computer for 1,5 months after I started there. On the day the 1,5 months had expired, I sent an email to ErgoGroup suggesting how to send the computer to them. The told me to talk to their lawyer.

I will get my money.

ErgoGroup will pay.

I mentioned in my previous post on going freelance that I love the team there and both of my bosses. I still don’t have a bad word to say about either of them. I even still stand by my statement that, as a normal employee not aiming for the levels of achievement that I did, you’ll likely not have any problems.

Remain mediocre and you’re safe.

Go for gold and they’ll screw you over.

ErgoGroup is no place for winners.

.b

(Since this is just my opinion, I welcome ErgoGroup to post a rebuttal to this post, and I’ll post that, unedited, here. Send via email and I’ll update the post and include a link if a new post is required)

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Bjørn Furuknap

I previously did SharePoint. These days, I try new things to see where I can find the passion. If you have great ideas, cool projects, or is in general an awesome person, get in touch and we might find out together.

27 thoughts on “My ErgoGroup Experience – How to Lose 60% of Your Salary”

  1. I recently was a victim of some dishonest behavior by my employer as well. I wish there were a place to accumulate stories like this so we could all become wiser employees.

  2. Sad to hear it´s not just me having a not-so-joyful exit from Ergo.
    I quit Ergo myself a month ago, not because of money, but a 2 year long deceit. I was hired to help Ergo build expertise on < ....>. After 4 month doing routine maintenance and bug fixing on one of the two < ....> software projects they got I started to ask about the "plan". The "glorious" plan they told me about, and that made me sign on and take a the position.
    A long story put short; it only got worse when they first moved the < ....> department to to a new division, an then later killed it off and merged it with a development department.

    For the two years I worked there I kept asking for "the plan" and "the strategy", and each time believing the "working on strategy", or "just around the corner". Stupid me. No more.

    Not used to post anonymously, and I don´t usually post "angry" posts about ex-employers, but Ergo exploits professionalism and trust of skilled people and it has been sad to watch it happen over and over again.

  3. That's quite a story. I hope you get something for it *other* than a good story. It's unfortunate that this shite happens to good people all the time.

  4. Det er leit å høre at du har hatt en slik opplevelse av ErgoGroup, Bjørn. Du og vi har nok litt ulik oppfattelse av både forventinger og hendelsesforløpet i saken, men det er uansett trist at du sitter igjen med et så negativt inntrykk av ErgoGroup.

    Siden denne saken er en personalsak, og som du selv skriver vil få et juridisk etterspill, er det ikke aktuelt å gå inn i en diskusjon om sakens fakta her. Jeg håper du har forståelse for det. Jeg beklager uansett at ansettelsesforholdet endte på denne måten, og ønsker deg lykke til i din nye jobb.

  5. Cathrin,

    As a courtesy to my mainly English audience, I'm going to translate as accurate as possible your Norwegian comment.

    Please note that I am translating this as close to word-by-word as possible, meaning that the language may be slightly weird and would require minor rewrites to be 'good' English.

    "
    It is sad to hear that you have had such an experience in ErgoGroup, Bjørn. You and we have likely had very different perceptions of both expectations and the events in this matter, but it is regardless sad that you are left with such a negative impression of ErgoGroup.

    Since this is now an HR matter, and as you yourself write will have a legal aftermath, it is not possible to enter into a discussion about the facts of the case here. I hope you understand that. I still appologize that the employment ended in this manner, and wish you good luck in your new job."

    .b

  6. Bjorn,

    I know you mentioned this briefly at SPTEchCon in San Francisco.
    I didn't know it was that bad.

    In retrospect, things good and bad
    happen for a reason. Now you can look forward to USPJA Academy.

  7. Bjorn,

    I know that part of the problem was that you were working so many hours that you did not have time to track this problem as closely as you otherwise could have.

    It's a win-win for them in the short-term, as they got your productivity and were able to keep you in the dark about your bonus. But I'm certain it's a "win" for you in the long term. It sounds like you have good documentation and that's what every company fears when it is operating unethically.

    A company I had worked for once tried to sue me for making a claim to the money I had earned and not been paid. They sent a courier with the notice of the lawsuit. I sent the courier back with about a foot of paper copies of my documentation.

    I got paid what I was owed that week.

    Good luck with your lawsuit. Perhaps it will encourage others to come forth with their own ErgoGroup complaints.

    WH

  8. Cathrin,

    While your 'Sorry, but no comment' approach may be legally sound, it certainly isn't socially sound and, based on the feedback I've received, makes you look more guilty.

    I understand your desire not to comment and I respect that, but the offer to publish your unedited rebuttal still stands if you want to take advantage of it. This is now a public case whether you like it or not, and right now, my claims are the only things available in this issue.

    .b

  9. Hey Bjorn,
    I am sorry to hear what happened to you.I know you are a good person from a past experience when you supported me.
    Don't let those people waste your time and energy, your past amazing achievements proved that the sky is the limit for you – I look forward to see your next achievements and learn from you more.
    Good luck, Gil.

  10. Reading this experience … I get the impression of a bitter man, in anger of more than the company itself, unfortunately for his environment and his next, he has these grand thoughts aboubt himself making him unable to produce the capability of reading a contract before signing it.

  11. Latest anonymous,

    I'm certain that with your experience in character judgement you are able to figure out that I'm a bitter man based on what you read in my blog. I wish I had your insight, but of course, since you felt you had to post anonymously, I'll never know where to go to learn from you.

    However, your ability to read baffles me, seeing that you missed a vital point here; that the contract regarding the bonus wasn't available or even written until after I quit the company.

    .b

  12. Remain mediocre and you’re safe.

    Go for gold and they’ll screw you over.

    These thoughts are becoming reality for the USA as well. Stay strong and don't give them an inch.

  13. Almost signed with ErgoGroup myself a few years back. But the ignorance and "slow work" of the HR department going through the recruitment process made me rethink… Luckily!!

  14. I wonder is there any connection between ergogroup.ie and ergogroup.no the corporate branding is different but they are both involved in SharePoint contracting/consultancy.

  15. Wow! Just like you I tend to trust people/organisations quite quickly, taking peoples word as enough guarantee to continue with any work or projects that need to be done.

    This sounds like a large organisation simply trying to trample over you and taking advantage of so called ‘terms’ that totally use every trick in the book to pay the minimum amount possible. I have a similar experience from my time in Denmark when a large multinational refused to pay me because I didn’t give them a certain document which they had specified in the contract.

    I still wrote and delivered the document, but they still refused to pay because I had already ‘left the clients site’! A whole year later they still say they owe me zero, but I do not have the means to pursue them legally and there are likely to be complications as I live in the UK. Again like you I feel simply that this should never happen to anybody again, taking advantage like this. Wrong.

    Good luck with the upcoming settlement/court case, wishing you the best!

  16. Hi Bjørn, are there any updates on this? Was a court date set in the meantime?
    Curious to know if there have been any developments since your last comment.

    1. Hi Rene,

      There are updates, alright, but because the other updates on my blog has been rather slow, I’ve chosen to hold back a bit before the next court update.

      I’m assuming you’ve read the other blog posts in the case series, if not, the latest update is on http://blog.furuknap.net/why-edb-ergogroup-is-going-down-big-time-yeah-i-won and you’ll find the entire series at the bottom of that, and each of the other articles.

      .b

  17. Hi Bjørn,

    I have been reading your blog, and found myself in a similar situation recently, unfortunately it was with an employer that wanted to pay as little as possible and have me do sharepoint development amongst other web related tasks and software documentation.

    I like you had enough and had to take action, I made an official complaint with our work watchdog, to get back pay (I was being underpaid by our countries standards). Too many people are willing to take this from employers, if employees don’t take action against their employers and make it public they will just do it to their next employee. I currently still have my job, but will certainly be making use of the company mailing list if I get fired, it’s not just me that has been underpaid. Employees should fight back, otherwise we are just as bad as the employers who don’t pay a fair wage, because we are partly responsible for the next employee not being paid correctly.

    I read the responses the ‘Anonymous’, are people intentionally naive? or is it just the general public they think they are fooling. We know who you are anonymous, if I was Bjorn I would be logging and tracing IP’s to this page so he can be sure who you are as well…….

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