What happens if your boss suddenly cuts your hours to force you to quit? If this happens, you're not alone. But here's what you need to know about the situation — the legality of the matter and how to handle it.
Wondering, can my boss cut my hours for no reason? Yes and no; the answer is a nuanced one.
I many cases, it is indeed legal for an employer to cut your hours, as the number of hours you work isn't necessarily always guaranteed. In other words, unless you have an employment contract or bargaining agreement to protect you, your employer can reduce your work schedule at any time. With some limitations, of course.
Unfortunately, employers can typically reduce your hours since most employees are "hired at will," which means that they aren't covered by a formal contract or bargaining agreement and can be terminated, demoted or have their hour reduced at any time at the company's discretion.
That said, any workers with employment contracts or protection under union contracts are usually shielded from hour cuts. In these cases, employers cannot arbitrarily cut or change your hours. Likewise, employers cannot cut or change an employee's hours based on discriminatory measures.
"The legal rules that apply to these cost-cutting measures depend on your exemption status — that is, whether you are an hourly (nonexempt) employee who is legally entitled to be paid overtime if you work extra hours or a salaried (exempt) employee who is paid the same amount each week regardless of how many hours you work," according to NOLO. "If you are a nonexempt employee, your employer is legally allowed to cut your hours or impose a furlough. However, your employer still must pay you for every hour you actually work. Many employees have found that, although their work hours have been cut, their work load has not -- and their employers expect them to pick up the slack. This is neither fair nor legal: If you are an hourly worker, then you are entitled to compensation for every hour worked, period. If you have to bring work home or put in hours on what's supposed to be your furlough day, you have a legal right to be paid for that time. Some employees have suffered pay cuts, either instead of or in addition to a cut in hours. This is also legal, but only if your hourly pay after the pay cut is at least the minimum wage.
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour, though many states do have higher minimums. You can find the current minimum wage numbers for your state here: Wage and Hour Laws in Your State.
Also note that the rules for exempt employees are a bit different than the rules for non-exempt employees. That's because regular wage and hour laws do not actually apply to employees who fall under an exemption to the laws.
Employers cut hours for a variety of reasons. This may be because the job role you fulfill is no longer necessary as a full-time position, or it could be because they need to budget better and, therefore, they need to reduce some employees' hours. Some employers reduce employees' hours in an effort to avoid having to layoff employees.
Not sure what to do if your boss cuts your hours in an effort that's evidently to make you quit? We talked to three women who this has happened to, and here's how they handled (and didn't handle) the situation so you have a better idea of what to do.
"I was working for a small business when my boss announced that they'd be closing the side of the business that I managed; they still wanted me to work for them, but they asked me to switch from a full-time employee (with benefits) to a part-time contractor," says Cait, who asked to use a pseudonym to protect her identity. "At first, I was okay with it. I'd considered freelancing for a while, but when I asked my boss to cancel my previous non-compete agreement (which basically stated I wasn't allowed to perform my same job function in the same industry for a minimum of a year), they balked. Somehow, they wanted me to work part-time for them without the ability to fill the rest of my hours with other clients. This seemed less than legal, but I was scared of burning bridges (or being wrong), so I tried to negotiate instead."
By the time Cait's last full day of work arrived, however, she still hadn't received a new contract. She says she felt betrayed because she'd spent two years working there. She wasn't ready to freelance full-time, but she knew she deserved better than what her current employer was offering her. So she walked away, worked in another industry for a year and then rejoined at a new company once her non-compete ended.
"Part of me wishes I had been more forceful," she adds. "Waiting a year was doable, but it's also something I shouldn't have dealt with. I felt like I was strong-armed into a no-win situation — and I should've stuck up for myself more — but I'm still glad I walked away."
"I've actually experienced previous bosses cutting hours to get me to quit at two different part-time jobs (at a retail store and another at a coffee shop)," says Laurice, founder of ClothedUp. "This is a very annoying situation and can be difficult to handle. At first, I didn't even realize they were purposefully cutting my hours because they did it so gradually. By the time I realized, I had missed out on hundreds worth of wages."
Laurice says she felt annoyed because she felt as though her employers should have simply explained the situation to her so that she could have begun searching for another job.
"I had to stressfully scramble to find another job to make up for the lost income," she says.
"My employer kept cutting my hours to try to get me to quit, so I was making less and less money," says Lauren, who also asked to use a pseudonym to protect her identity. "I ultimately could no longer afford my gym membership or lunch or anything. So I asked my employer that, if I was going to still work at the company with reduced hours, if they could at the very least chip in on a gym membership for me or stipends for lunch. While they couldn't afford to pay me for all the extra hours, they could afford to give me a discount on a gym membership and a monthly expenses stipend that I've been using toward lunch and gas for my commute."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.
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