company cuts pay after one week

A reader writes:

I was just hired for a job last week, a job which I really enjoy thus far and it looks like a job that I will continue to enjoy. Though it is not my “dream job,” it is pretty good so far.

I was hired in at what the company calls 3/4 time. I am not part time, nor full time. When they hired me I was told that they expect me to work 30 hours a week as a salaried employee. The reason that they offer 3/4 time as an option is because they offer benefits to 3/4 time employees, albeit not quite as good of benefits as what full time employees. For example, the full time employees receive more vacation time, and get more of their health insurance paid for.

I was quoted a salary and was told that the salary was based on me working 3/4 time (30 hours a week). Today I was called in by my immediate supervisor and the head of the HR department. They told me that an error was made in the hiring process and that the salary they offered me was for a full time equivalent for this position, not a 3/4 time employee. The HR director told me that there was simply a misunderstanding between the CEO and the HR director regarding my salary. I was then told that I am now going to have to work as a full time employee with no salary increase.

This sounds very fishy to me. It appears as if I only have two options, quit, or accept what they told me. I did not sign any type of employee contract when I was hired. I will say that the HR director and my immediate supervisor appeared to be very apologetic and embarrassed over the situation. Do I believe that they are being honest with me? Mostly, yes, but after just one week on the job I can’t say that I know them well enough to determine their level of honesty.

What do you think of this situation? Do you have any advice or should I just accept the situation? Do they sound like they are trying to scam me?

I don’t have any reason to believe they’re trying to scam you; it’s possible, of course, but that would be pretty weird.

What I think is that they screwed up twice — once on the salary they quoted you, and then again when they tried to “fix” it. You don’t go to an employee and say, “Oh, by the way, we’re giving you a pay cut because we made a mistake. Sorry!” The fact is, this error is theirs, and if I did this, I would decide that I had to suck it up and pay you what I had agreed for the number of hours I had agreed. I want employees to know that they can count on my word, especially in matters as important as job negotiations.

And if for some reason, they just absolutely cannot do what they promised you, they need to frame it differently. I would feel better about them if they had said to you, “We’re mortified about this, and normally we would want to just accept the consequences of our error, but we can’t because _____, and if you can’t stay in the job under these circumstances, we completely understand.” (Actually, maybe they did do this; I’m not sure from your letter.)

In any case, you can try to argue it — “I accepted this job at a specific salary for a specific number of hours, and I turned down other offers to take it.” I’m not a lawyer, but a lawyer might even tell you that you could have a breach of contract suit, even if the offer wasn’t in writing (which it sounds like it wasn’t) … but lawsuits are rarely an option I advise, as they require huge amounts of time and stress (and often money), and the payoff — if it comes at all — can take years.

I think you’re better off asking yourself this: If this had been the original offer, would you have taken it? If no, there’s no reason you should accept it now. If you were prepared to walk away a few weeks ago, why not walk away now? But if you would have accepted it, then there’s no harm in considering accepting it now.

On the other hand, you now have info about them that you didn’t have originally: namely, the way they handled this very sticky situation. So I think you have to include this in the larger picture of what you know about them, as well as what general feeling you have about them, as you figure out how to proceed. (And I’m not saying this should absolutely damn them in your head; it depends on the nuances of how they addressed this with you.)

And in the future: You must get all job offers in writing, with a comprehensive listing of terms. Always, always, always.

{ 8 comments… read them below }

  1. HR Godess*

    I couldn’t agree more with AAM. They made a mistake and unless there are dire circumstances that cannot be overlooked, I would have just taken the hit and left the employee with the original offer. It’s possible that the HR Director made a big mistake and their boss is very upset and told them to fix it.

    The advice AAM gave you is great advice. Decide if you want to stay for what they are offering now and go from there. I personally would have tried to find another way to fix this problem to save face with the new person but who knows how managment handles things at this company. Sometimes, it truly is out of HR’s control.

  2. Anonymous*

    If I’m reading this correctly, it’s not a pay cut per se, it’s being asked to work more hours without more pay (which I realize nets out to less pay on a per hour basis, but is still the same total dollars per year). Bad situation to be in regardless, but besides what AAM already stated, one issue is to decide which is more important – how many hours are worked or what the salary is.

    If it’s more imporant to work fewer hours, offering to reduce pay could be an option, then spend time looking for another job! A company reniging on their salary offer seems like a perfectly acceptable reason to give new potential employers. If the salary is more important and it means working the full 40 hours, it seems like the company would HAVE to bump up the vacation time and percent of insurance paid to ensure equal treatment.

    Also, this would be a good opportunity to practice negotiating. One example: if working 40 hours per week means child care expenses will be higher than planned for based on the original expectation of 30 hours a week, that would be good leverage for agreeing to work the 40 hours they’re asking but giving a “legitimized” reason for why more money is required. Many of the standard “total benefits package” negotiation options would apply here, such as asking up front that an “annual” review in 6 months (in addition to, not in place of, a review in 12 months!).

  3. Just another HR lady...*

    Interesting circumstances. Mistakes happen, it’s a fact of life, unfortunately the mistake was not managed properly. You should have been notified of the error, apologized to (profusely), and notified that as the offered salary is higher than it should have been, that you would remain at that same salary (red-circled) until you were at the appropriate salary level to receive an increase.

    In terms of how you handle this, it would based on what you want. I’m assuming you wanted to work 3/4time, rather than full-time? If you can’t work full-time, I would advise of this and see what happens, I personally think that they are going to have to find another solution to rectify their mistake.

  4. job seeker*

    Hi, I am the one who sent the email to AAM. First I would like to say thank you very much to AAM for replying so quickly and for all the great advice you post on your blog.

    Now to answer some questions that have been posed:

    They did appear fairly mortified at the mistake, but gave no reason why they couldn’t go ahead and pay me the originally agreed upon amount/hours.

    The offer they made me was not in writing.

    would I have taken the job as a full time job at the salary they are paying me now? yes

    I will say that my trust level in them has diminished greatly, they had a good orientation and training set up for me, which impressed me, but after this incident I wonder about their ethics/professionalism.

    RE: anonymous: salary is far more important to me than the number of hours worked. They are increasing the amount of vacation hours I receive per pay period as well as charging me less for health insurance (both are at the same rate as all other full time employees).

    RE: just another HR lady: I was actually looking for full time, but they offered me 3/4 time and I accepted that…especially with the pay they were offering lol. I can easily work full time, that is not an issue.

    I believe that this was an error in communication between management and HR. Though I will be MUCH more leery of them for now.

    I am disappointed but I intend on continuing to work there for now. Being jobless isn’t an option for me.

    It may sound silly, but this situation does make me wonder if they will go back on their word with me in the future on any issue, not just salary.

    Thanks to everyone (especially AAM!) for all the feedback and if you have any other questions let me know.

  5. HR Maven*

    I believe that this was an honest mistake. We have a number of ‘reduced’ FTE positions and when depts extend offers, sometimes the hiring manager makes mistakes.

    I couldn’t tell from your post who offered you the position. We are VERY specific in extending offers on reduced FTE positions for this very reason. Sometimes hiring managers just ‘know better’ and then HR gets to clean up the mess.

    I am impressed that they offered you full time hours. I work in higher ed and sometimes we CAN’T extend full time hours as some of our offices are closed in July/August.

    I also suspect that they couldn’t increase your salary by 25% as it would create some compensation inequities.

    Lastly, since you have accepted the situation, you could at some point go back to the HR director and ask the question – have you had this happen in the past? If so, how did you handle it? I would be curious as to their answer.

  6. HR Godess*

    Job seeker,

    Because of this error, I would suggest getting anything else from HR in writing. This way, there will be less question of what was promised to you versus what you are getting. If this truly was a mistake like it seems to be, HR will go above and beyond (due to the embarrassment) to make sure it never happens again, especially to you.

    Good luck to you in your job. I think this really was an unfortunate oversight. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and at least they went forth and gave you the other benefits you didn’t have as 3/4 time, now that you are F/T.

  7. almostgotit*

    Yes, absolutely. Right now. GET THE TERMS OF YOUR EMPLOYMENT IN WRITING, whatever it is, and decide whether it’s what you want or not. You have nothing to apologize for, either… they screwed up and so OF COURSE you now need to do what all parties should have done at the beginning, very matter-of-factly, and put the whole thing in writing, with your signature if you accept.

    Get it in writing, always always always. Plus also: ALWAYS.

    (been there, done that, been screwed, know what I’m talking about.)

  8. Anonymous*

    I’d start looking for alternative employment immediately. Hiring mistakes are not the responsibility of the employee – you should not be ‘paying’ for other peoples mistakes (or their institutional bullying tactics).
    To confirm how bad this employer is have a quiet word with some of the longer serving employees about their experiences. try not to call attention to yourself whilst your doing this though.

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