my company promised me a raise and won’t come through

A reader writes:

I started a job at $10 an hour. I took the job because I needed income, and wasn’t planning to stay for very long. I liked it, because it was a 10 minute drive to work, and steady pay. I was offered another job that would be $14 an hour, but it was a 30 minute drive. I offered the place I was working a chance to keep me on by meeting the offer, because I liked the office and the short drive.

My boss’s reponse was this email:

We would like to keep you as an Administrative Assistant with BUSINESS. I can offer you a full-time position as an Administrative Assistant but only at the $12.00 per hour mark right now due to the limited duties. Once we finish the mailings which should be in a month or so (based on your speediness), we will have the option to increase you to your desired wage of $14.00 per hour. I will have HR manager put a formal promotion letter for the Administrative Assistant position in place to you by tomorrow. Please confirm that you will be staying and that you are accepting this promotion. Thank you.

Well, this was well over a month ago. Plus, during this time, I’ve been taking on a lot of additional duties, and we’ve moved the office (in a very quick and unexpected move) so that my current commute is now 35 minutes. We moved because the rent would be much lower and would save the company a lot of money.

I asked my boss about the raise and was told it might be two months now… and to ask again in a couple days. I asked again in a couple days and I’ve been told that the company can’t afford it right now. I’d just have to stay at $12 an hour.

I’d like to know if I have any recourse open to me, legally, about getting the raise I’ve earned. Or should I just start looking for another job?

I’m not a lawyer, and you may want to consult one, but at a minimum, this is terribly unfair: You turned down a job specifically because they made you a promise to increase your rate of pay. It sounds like you have that in writing.

There may be a legal issue here. On the other hand, even if there is, you can pretty much expect your relationship with your employer to go to hell if you bring in a lawyer. (Fair? No. Reality? Yes.)

I’d handle it this way: Go to your boss and explain that you’re very concerned because you turned down another offer at their request, specifically because they offered you a pay increase. Say that you turned down the more lucrative position because your boss gave you her word, and you’re asking her to honor it, since you accepted it in good faith.

Now, I suppose it’s possible that the company really is in such dire financial straits that they can no longer afford to make good on their promise — in which case, you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to stay. But if they can’t afford to pay you this extra $80/week, I’d be questioning whether you or any of their employees have much job security anyway.

{ 24 comments… read them below }

  1. Kerry*

    I'm definitely not a lawyer, and you should definitely only take legal advice from lawyers.

    But when I read, "…we will have the option to increase you to your desired wage…" I knew before I read further what the ending was going to be. They wrote you a letter that gave THEM the option of giving you a raise. They didn't say they were going to. In fact, they added words in to expressly avoid saying that they were going to. They said they had the option. Those are weasel words, and they almost never appear accidentally.

    And on top of that, they moved within what looks like a few weeks of this conversation. I have never, ever seen an employer plan a move in less than a few months…which means they had to have known at the time all this went down that they were moving 35 miles away. Did they tell you that? I'm guessing not, since the commute is now more than what the other job would have been.

    I couldn't agree more with the last line–if they can't afford the extra $80/week, this discussion is academic anyway.

    I would handle it exactly as AAM suggest…but I'd also start looking for a more upstanding employer, regardless of the outcome. These are some really bad signs you're seeing here.

  2. Anonymous*

    Unfortunately I too think that word 'option' in there is going to be the employer's trump card. They will use it to say they never promised the raise.

    As AAM states bringing in lawyers is definitely going to ruin any chance for future promotions or raises. And it would likely cost more than the author could earn at either $12/hr or $14/hr.

    I would put in the 'hard lesson' category–and not turn down another job if you get it! Even if the commuting costs mean the total take home pay is equal, the higher hourly rate and greater responsibility will improve future job opportunities.

  3. Anonymous*

    Although I agree with Kerry and Anonymous above, playing the semantics game further reveals more.

    "The option" seems to sound if the OP gets the mailings done within x amount of time ("speediness" comment). Now, of course, we can enter the move into this scenario which might prevent said speediness on mailings; if the move slows it down, then maybe you weren't exactly speedy enough for them to give the extra $2/hour.

    Reading further, the employer writes that he WILL have a formal letter sent through HR regarding this promotion BY TOMORROW (assuming for the date after this email over a month ago). What happened to "by tomorrow?" Or the following day?

    And one last thing…the employer asks the OP to confirm the acceptance of this promotion as he signs off on this email.

    In summation, I read it as "We have the option of giving you this raise, and I will do so via a formal letter to HR by tomorrow. Do you accept this and stay with our company?" Please excuse me as I like to literally take stuff like this and read it word for word to find the meaning of the person's statements.

    I don't know the company's financial constraints at all, let alone this moment. I don't know if they can afford the extra dollars an hour. However, is there a chance the OP can find out in HR if that letter exists? That wasn't the option according to what he wrote as he WILL do it BY TOMORROW. Is there a chance too that the OP can talk to her boss about how she took this job for being closer and now has to commute and needs the extra few dollars to put towards gas?

    OP, I wouldn't drag a lawyer into this to threaten the boss into more money, but perhaps if you have a friend who's a lawyer, maybe talk to him casually to see how you can approach your boss without involving the legal system. Maybe there's a way to approach him with the email saying "this is what you said." Or else just see one for consultation.

    I see it as she was promised despite the "option" word thrown in there, and it's just rotten for an employer to dangle the bait and snatch it away.

  4. Richard*

    Regardless of the semantics, it was still a horrible thing to do to someone in order to retain their services: You don't talk about having the option of giving someone a raise unless it's actually a viable option. Afterwards they claim that they can't afford it, so either;
    1. They lied to you, with no actual intention of giving you the raise.
    2. They're incompetent, and are making gestures towards offers f a raise before actually running the figures and finding out if they can afford it, or if they can get this approved by someone up above.
    3. They're heading towards the gutter: As AAM mentioned, if a company can't afford $80 more a week, they're probably not doing that well.

    Regardless of which situation above applies, it doesn't look good for you, so I can only recommend that you keep up your job search; I'm not sure that I'd want to work for a company that pulled any of the above, especially if they push the extra responsibilities onto you regardless of whether you got the raise.

  5. Anonymous*

    I'm the employee in this situation. I did actually clarify before accepting (and probably should have cleared it up when writing to AAM). I emailed my boss asking about the phrasing of "option to increase" and she clarified that it would be a definite increase. Boss's words (from an email response) stated "Yes the increase will take effect for the $14 once you take on the additional duties"

    I still haven't gotten that "official letter" that I was supposed to get the next day. I do have all her emails to me though, saved on my home email address. Legally, it's a binding written contract, even if it's not in official letter form.

    So, I've been looking for a new job. I don't see any way to get the Boss to follow through without legal action, and doing that would indeed wreck the relationship with the company. I'm hanging onto this job until I find something new though, as I need the paycheck (hard times, everybody…).

    It really sucks that you can't trust the word of your employer, even when you have it in writing.

    I'm signing this as anonymous, just in case my boss sees this.

  6. Anonymous*

    OP –

    That's good that you clarified the "option" so you and he were on the same playing field (or so you thought at the time). I'm really sorry to hear that he is going back on these emails. I have seen enough on television court shows to know that if it's in writing, then it's an agreement.

    I'd print out those emails and file them away just in case your email or computer decide to go on the fritz.

    At this point, continue your job search to find something closer to home with better money, but I do agree with you to hold onto to this for the paycheck. Furthermore, if you are an excellent employee and no longer gripe about this situation (as one person mentioned above about taking it as a hard lesson learned), then you might have a reference to use down the road. Sometimes, that's better than the extra $2 an hour if it helps getting a better job.

    Good luck!

  7. Gene*

    Not a lawyer either, but you have a written promise to give you a raise on a certain date. You likely have a valid claim for the $2/hour for all hours worked after that date. So, after you find another job make that claim through a lawyer and get it all in one lump sum.

  8. Anonymous*

    I would give your state's BOLI office a call and see what the laws are in your state regarding this subject. In my state they would most likely enforce the agreement and you wouldn't need to talk with a lawyer to place a complaint. You would complain directly to BOLI and they would investigate if founded.

  9. shawn*

    written job offers can and do get rescinded all the time. they aren't contracts. while it sucks the company is doing this, wouldn't this sort of fall under the whole at-will/we can do anything deal? yes, they offered this raise but now have decided against it. sucks, but again no contract was signed.

  10. Anonymous*

    @Shawn – Although I see your point, the OP was already with this business and has been getting paid for certain duties. As per the emails she quoted to us, she would take on extra duties and get paid more to supplement. The reality is she got more duties at the same pay rate. Furthermore, she has it in writing that the boss will put the raise into motion as early as the next day of the email he wrote her. That didn't happen, hence why we are here.

    Although there wasn't a contract per se, there were electronic signatures. I'm assuming the boss typed his name at the end of the email while the OP did the same from her end. Also, he asked her to confirm that she was going to stay with the company and accept the promotion. He took her word for it from the email (and further actions by showing up at work and doing the duties responsible to her). Therefore, why can't she take his word from his emails and get her raise?

    I don't know much about "at will" except I thought it was only towards firing. I could be wrong. Maybe AAM needs to write a blog post about "at will" employment.

    And if there's a lawyer reading this post and comments, let us know what the parameters are of a case like this.

  11. Anonymous*

    I too agree that 'at will' employment means they can change your pay whenever and for whatever reason. BUT they need to tell you that at the time they make the change, not simply make note of it in your paycheck, after you've already worked the hours. The employer has to inform you before you've actually performed the work, so that you can decide whether or not you accept those terms.

    All around shady business. I would probably talk to the state labor department about it. Even if it doesn't result in any back pay for the author, it could end up resulting in penalties for the employer that might deter them from doing such things in the future.

  12. fposte*

    Shawn, I agree that offers can be rescinded, but I'm not seeing any clear rescission here–it looks to me like a business that's waffling and stonewalling in the hope that they can string the employee along rather than replacing him/her. The OP would be in an unfortunate spot either way, of course, but the company wouldn't look quite so flaky if they'd managed to provide an official communication that the pay raise will not be forthcoming.

  13. shawn*

    believe me, i'm not standing up for the company. it is definitely shady, and a horrible thing to do to an employee. all i meant is it seems the OP should bring it up with management, and either live with whatever immediate decision is made or quit/find a new job. the whole talk of legal recourse, when it might not at all exist, just seems over the top over $4000.

  14. fposte*

    Oh, yeah, I didn't mean to suggest you thought the company was doing something good. I just think that they're failures at rescission as well.

  15. A*

    I to was offered a new title and a raise over 9 months ago.
    Recieved the title but not the raise.
    After confronting my Boss, she gave me an excuse that really flipped me out. “We have a loan to pay off, so you will just have to be pacient”. (This has nothing to do with me or my job duties, it is a loan for the remodeling of our building.)
    This was 6 months ago. I’v been given even more resposibility, and greater tasked to do since then.
    Not sure what I can do, but look for another job, or just be taken advantage of….
    Im asking for any help or suggestions available.

  16. Anonymous*

    Well I been working for this company for four years and i just got a promotion. But, the thing is that i got promoted 3 months ago and still having received any type of pay for it. My question to y’all is should i stay and wait to see if i gonna actually get it or look for something else?

  17. Lisa*

    Hi all;

    There’s a lady at work who is going for martenity leave for 2-3 months and my boss assigned all her duties to me but talks no moneys, worse part is that I’ve been with the company for more that a year and its my universary this month but he offered no raise only to add extra duties instead, is this legally allowed?

  18. jewel*

    I feel like if you are promised a raise and you have been promoted that it shouldn’t take 2 or 3 months to get a raise. I understand that there are procedures that has to take place but at the same time no one wants to do the extra work and not get paid for it. There is a law for it i think its called manual labor im not sure though. The financial status of an employer shouldn’t be a factor if the promote you and promise you a raise. They know they’re finacial status before they give you a higher position. Lets just be honest. So any employer who do those things people should start taking them to court because no one wants to quit and have to search for another job after years and they shouldn’t have too….

    1. Ernie*

      Lmao, manual labor law. There is no law against an employer promising a raise and not delivering unless it is in a written contract. Then you could sue them in civil court. After you finish sueing them they will find a reason to make you quit (so they do not have to pay unemployment wages). After making you quit, if they have any push in the industry they will get you blacklisted.

      At will employment means the employer or the employee can terminate the employment contract at anytime. Employer must have cause unless your a probationary employee. Employee can leave at will, no cause needed.

      I was also promised a raise a few days ago. I do some of the duties of my boss, his boss, and the boss above. I never asked for the raise, they offered it. If I get it great, if not oh well. What these companies are doing is unethical, but not illegal. You have to ask yourself if you want to work for an unethical company?

      HR / Operations Manager

  19. jewel*

    The thing of it is i have been on my job a while and 3 months ago i got a promotion and i was promised a raise along with it. But i recently started another job and believe it or not have been working both jobs. Also the job i just recently started gave me a raise after the first week because they seen that i was and am a hard worker. That shows appreciation for a hard worker and makes you feel good that some one appreciates you for your hard work…. Now that i have started working it i love it so im thinking what should i do legally about my 3 month of hard work that was promised a promotion….

  20. louise*

    I have worked for a private owned mobile home park for two years. My boss is 91yrs old. Calls me for meetings, instructs me to set into motion construction on the house as mamager I was promised to move in. My boss has a daughter who micromanages me, that I can handle. Two days ago when she learned of her fathers instructions, she hit the roof. Even though I have an email from her telling me she is sorry for the position her father put me in. I get another email. She is not giving me the position, not giving me the salary, health insurance or annuity now. My current position is not guareenteed n now my job willll be evaluated on my coorperation. Now i am instructed not to ever contact her father by phone or n person. What do I do? Help me keep my cool. Louise

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