boss cut hours by half

A reader writes:

I am my boss’ only employee and he cut my hours to 20/week a few weeks ago. I was surprised, to say the least. I thought he did it because he didn’t want me there anymore so I asked him if that was the reason. He said it was solely because of money, so I have continued working my regular hours and get paid for only 20. I have been with him for 3 years and he has been good to me. I know business has been slow and that he has kids in college.

However I can’t help but be a wee bit paranoid that he will axe me for someone new and cheaper (and make me train her on my way out). People always say bosses cut your hours in an attempt to get rid of you. Is it just moronic to think that he’d actually tell me if he was going to get rid of me? If he does, I’ll really be screwed – if I only worked the 20 hours a week it’d be easier to find a new job, but I’ve kept my regular hours helping him dig out of this hole. He just got a $100,000.00 equity line on the office – I don’t know if that means anything.

Would I have any recourse if he does leave me high and dry?

You need more information.

Some people may find this naive, but I’m a big proponent of just being honest about what you’re wondering about and simply asking him. In order to make good decisions, you need to find out more about what he’s thinking — for instance, does he foresee the cut in your hours being temporary, or is it for the foreseeable future? Is it an interim step that might eventually lead to needing to eliminate your position altogether? Is he offering you 20 hours because he feels he needs to offer you something, but he’d really prefer not to have any staff at all right now? What kind of commitment, if any, is he realistically able to make to you right now? These are the kinds of questions you need to know the answers to.

And when you have this conversation, let your three years of working with this guy inform your thinking too. Is he a generally ethical and open guy? Or have you seen him break his word, deceive others, or trample over someone else to protect himself? Of course, even if you know him to be an upstanding person, keep in mind that financial circumstances beyond his control may cancel out his best intentions — so you should always have a safety net ready, no matter what.

Also, if you are going to work twice the hours he’s paying you for out of loyalty, you really should protect yourself. For instance, tell him that you understand the position he’s in right now, that you feel loyal to him and want to help, and that you’d be willing to continue to work full-time with a half-time salary if he’s able to offer you an employment contract locking in work for you for __ months. (You fill in the blank.) What you don’t want is to work half your hours for free out a sense of a loyalty and a feeling that you’re both in it together, only to find yourself let go with no warning at some point down the road (in which case, without a contract, you would indeed be left without recourse). So by all means, make the offer if you think he’s earned it, but protect yourself too.

Good luck!

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. HR Maven*

    Are you a salaried employee or hourly employee?

    Laws vary by state but if you are hourly, at least in my state, we MUST pay you for hours worked.

    Great advice on having a frank conversation about the situation. I would however cut back on some of my hours (if salaried) to update my resume and be ready just in case.

    I hope things work out for you!

  2. The Engineer*

    My first thought is the same as HR Maven. Hourly employees must be paid for hours worked. No “deals” allowed.

    Second, why would you work 20 hours for free? Your boss has cut you back to part time. Unless he said he was halving your pay rate, this means he has decided he can’t afford to have you there full time. Don’t feel bad about only working 20 hours. That is the current agreement. Use the other 20 hours to look for a new full time job or pick up another half time position. The ship appears to be sinking. You are the only one who can prepare your lifeboat.

  3. Anonymous*

    I absolutely agree with the Engineer. I would sit down with your boss, get some more information but do not work for free. That’s just nonsensical and will lead you to resent your boss. A lot. Take the extra time you have to look for a new position, or take on a holiday position at your local mall.

  4. almostgotit*

    Yes, get that information. But. BUT.


    Wages are a very powerful “symbol that functions,” and giving your labor away for free is an action that WILL function, in your boss’s mind AS WELL AS YOUR OWN.

    E.G.: If you want to retain your value in that job, working for free is exactly the WRONG way to do it.

  5. HR Maven*

    I thought of one other comment. Depending on your state, you may be eligible to collect unemployment based on your reduction in hours.

    It’s worth investigating, especially this time of year and not knowing what is going to happen.

  6. Anonymous*

    In Massachusetts you absolutely can collect unemployment for the hours you are shorted. He’s paid into it for three years, why not use it? That’s what it’s for.

  7. Anonymous*

    I have been working at a company where the boss does not train that good or the regulars, I have to ask questions and ask where this and that is, to top it off one of the workers brings people in work after store is closed and they go to the back room and hangout or they help them finish their work sooner and stay long the day before the District Manager comes to visit the store. One of the regulars toke their lunch break while the other one went to the stock room to talk to the other worker while she was on the clock. And sense I am new they told me to do this section that section, turns out that is their sections. I told the boss about this and I had 34 hours for my first pay check and after I told her what was going on, she cut my hours to 15 hours for two weeks in a row and 14 hrs one week. I asked her if I can work more hours, she explains she lost my number so I wrote it down for her, and she gave me 18 hours, then when I go into work I look at the schedule and she gave me 13 hours instead. And she gives me the hard work to do and the regular workers are at the register checking out customers. I over heard her the other day saying she takes care of her girls. I am under the impression that she is aware of the regular worker bringing in friends after the store is closed and helping out. I even heard the regular worker telling the two people helping them out don't worry were gonna pay you for it. Should I speak with the District Manager about this? When my boss hired me she said at the most I'll get 32 hours a week. Now when she gives me work to do, she rushes me telling me, "are you done yet, go over there and work," and she snaps her fingers. I am only one person and I am being taken advantage of because I am new there. She is being unfair, and she makes sure she gets her hours and the other regulars and the other new girl worker, but my hours are cut. When I close with one of the regulars she closes the register and tells me to sign the paper of returns when I did no returns that day, I was on the sales floor. I feel like they are putting their responsibilities on me and expect me to take the heat or do their work for them while they have it easy and talk amongst themselves. There is not much team effort there. It is unfair, she treats the other workers better than me. She hasn't even spoken to me about the W-form you sign when you are hired. She even asks me what I do when I am not working and today she talks to one of the regulars and tells her no drama today and she sounds bored. I am looking forward to some good advice please. Thanks.

  8. Anonymous*

    I am the senior special ed paraprofessional at a local school ~ my hours were cut, and another paraprofessional that has less experience than I had her hours increased! I was surprised, to say the least. This is the FIRST year that I have had NO INPUT on my hours, except to say that I was willing to work the same hours as in previous years (4 full days a week and 1/2 day on Fridays). I have wondered if this is simply a tactic of the Head Teacher’s. My main thought is I should have been consulted before my hours were arbitrarily set, and then, dosed out to me as bad medicine. I do feel paranoid that I will face the axe if I express my feelings and thoughts on the issue to the Head Teacher or to the School Board.

    I would appreciate your advice!

  9. anne lee*

    My manager took me completely off the schedule because he heard a rumor I got hired at another place and was not gonna give any notice…is he legally able to do that without consulting me first…

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