manager wants to take back my raise

A reader writes:

My boss gave me a raise to do the schedule when the manager of our call center quit. Now that he has hired a manager, he wants to take the raise back. I told him it wasn’t fair and he said he would talk to me about it later. That was 2 days ago and he hasn’t talked to me. Can he do this? And what should I do if he does?

Yes, he can do it.

And to be honest, I don’t think it’s all that crazy.

What I do take issue with is that it sounds like he didn’t communicate well enough with you originally. When he first gave you the raise, he should have been explicit that it was temporary and only until a new manager was hired. On the other hand, maybe he did convey that — you wrote that he gave you the raise “to do the schedule” when the manager quit, which may or may not have conveyed that the raise was linked to that specific duty. But given the importance of pay, managers need to make sure they’re being crystal clear about financial arrangements.

In any case, I’d let this go. Even if he flubbed the communication around this, he gave you a raise to compensate you for an additional, temporary duty, which you’ll no longer be doing. Your issue, I think, is more about the principle of it — i.e., you don’t give someone a raise and then take it away without good reason. But if you look at the context here, it does make sense. He just should have been clearer with you.

It’s also worth noting that lots of people get stuck with additional duties without any increase in compensation when a coworker leaves. Seen from that perspective, you might argue that your boss did right by you by paying you more during this period.

So let this go. You got paid more for a changed circumstance, and now that circumstance is over.

But this is a really good example of how something that was probably intended to help your morale (the temporary raise) ended up hurting it, because your manager didn’t handle it thoughtfully enough at the start. Managers, take note; you can’t do this stuff half-assed!

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Document, document, document…

    I document everything that happens in my little planner. You need to learn to make sure you understand everything, and just make little notes in a planner as soon as the conversation is over. Perhaps he did say it was just a temporary compensation for you to take over the duties until they hired someone new. That way, you are not disappointed.

    And another thing – was it a “raise” or more of a “compensation” since you were not actually being hired or raised to that position?

  2. Anonymous*

    That’s astounding that he gave any money at all! This is the first case I’ve ever seen where someone recieved any additional compensation for temporarily taking on additional duties before someone else is hired.

  3. Anonymous*

    I agree. Be happy you got any raise. I have taken on two additional departments and never received a raise. My suggestion next time would be to ask if the raise is temp or perm. Also see if maybe you could apply for the manager’s job. If they trusted you to do the schedule, maybe that was a sign to see if you were interested in management?

  4. Clobbered*

    This is standard practice in some sectors – it is called a temporary promotion. Senior person quits, junior person is assigned to act as senior person while a replacement is found, at which point junior person turns back into a pumpkin.

    The increases compensation indeed comes and then goes – nothing unfair about it. Of course in the places where this is common, all this is accompanied by a letter from HR spelling it out.

  5. Joey*

    It’s so hard to take back anything you give to employees even when it’s temporary. It becomes the expectation unless you make it absolutely clear, confirm they understand, and then remind them when just before it’s time to take it back.

  6. Joanna Reichert*

    I agree that it *appears* that this was handled poorly. But it is nervewracking how little employers tend to consider our paychecks and how much our compensation means to us.

    Without communication, I myself would have assumed (as I’m guessing the OP did) that the raise was not temporary, but more of a “Thanks for stepping up to the plate and doing a good job” merit raise – though we can’t ignore the fact that as AAM always says, get it in writing!

    I would at least broach this with your boss, explaining that more information would lead to less bewilderment on his/her employees’ part, while thanking him/her for the temporary increase.

  7. Anonymous*

    I was given the duties of one of the managers at my job, when he left to go on a nine-month around-the-world vacation. The theory was that he was coming back, but as of now, it doesn’t sound like he is going to. But despite the fact that my manager has repeatedly promised me a raise for taking on an entirely different job, on a permanent basis, in addition to my normal duties, nothing’s come to fruition. Occasionally I follow up with him, but at this point, I’m assuming nothing is going to come of it. I think OP should be happy they got even a temporary raise – although, I can see being upset if there wasn’t communication that it was, in fact, temporary.

  8. Harry*

    I don’t think it is all that crazy either. People get pay raises all the time. Why is it hard to imagine getting pay decreases. Many people would love to get a pay decrease over losing their job. This is life. Move on!

  9. RS*

    I would just accept the temporary increase and be happy with it. At least he did give you some kind of extra compensation for taking on more work. He could have just gotten away with giving you the work load as a part of your job without any increase, which is what the 99% of other managers are probably doing, but he didn’t.

  10. Vicki*

    Nearly everyone is saying “Lucky you, get over it.” Few have commented that this manager said he would talk to OP about it later and has not done so. If it really was temporariy and OP somehow missed that, what’s to “talk about”?

    Something is fishy.

  11. Bob G*

    It may have helped if it wasn’t presented as a “raise” but rather a separate line item on the OP’s paycheck. Something like “bonus” or some other wording so it wouldn’t feel like a pay “raise” and then a pay “loss”.

    I also agree that the manager should talk to the OP about this since they said they would but really it has only been 2 days…he may still address this with the OP.

    1. jmkenrick*

      I agree. A bonus sounds like a ‘thanks for the extra help’! Regardless of how reasonable it is, if my boss gave me a raise and then removed it, I would feel discouraged.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree with the bonus idea in theory – but depending on the financial bracket and 401K plan the employee the bonus thing can get a little tricky. They can be taxed differently, etc.

  12. Sarah G*

    I’d be interested to know what exactly the manager told the OP when informing him/her of the raise. If the temporary nature of the raise wasn’t communicated at all, even implicitly, I can see why this turn of events would be frustrating and decrease the OP’s morale. I would be frustrated if I didn’t see it coming.

    That said, he/she does need to just accept this and move forward, but I agree with Joanna; the OP could thank the manager for the temporary increase, while also mentioning the reason for the confusion. This is about communication, and the situation was avoidable, per the last paragraph of Alison’s response.

  13. jmkenrick*

    Regardless of how reasonable it is, I definitely feel that getting a raise and then seeing it taken away would be frustrating and leave me feeling slighted. Moreover, if I was doing the extra work properly, without struggling too much, I would probably want to continue doing it rather than see my paycheck/responsibilities suddenly decrease.

    I’m not sure what is industry standard, since I’ve never been in a situation like this, but it really seems like it would have been smarter to call this a ‘bonus’ and present it in a 1-time check, rather than adding it to the salary. Seeing the number on my check go down, especially after I’d been doing extra work, I wouldn’t feel grateful, I would feel discouraged. That may be unreasonable, but I think it’s pretty human, which is something that managers should account for.

  14. Effective Delegator*

    The problem I see here is that you were not told that the raise was potentially temporary until a new manager can be found. I would question the potential legality or company policy of such action by the manager. Tough spot.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Unless they have a written contract promising a certain salary for a certain period of time, it’s legal. An employer can change the terms of employment at any point, unless they have a contract that prohibits it. (Think, for instance, of employers who do pay cuts or furloughs during tight financial times.) The employee can then decide if she’s willing to continue working under those terms or not.

      1. Phideaux*

        What would constitute a legal contract? In my situation, I recently had my position re-classified to a higher position, and in lieu of a pay increase, I negotiated more vacation days, paid medical coverage for my wife, and a few other minor perks. I got this in writing in the form of a letter signed by my boss, the CEO, and the Human Resources Mgr. The HR mgr was totally against this because, “that’s just not the way we do it” and “if we do it for him, then…” The problem is that yesterday, my boss was given his walking papers so I’m nervous that now the company may renege on the deal. The letter states that these things are as a result of me getting promoted, in a nutshell and that I gave up a pay increase for them, but there is no stated end date. I don’t want to ask, “can they do this?” because anyone can do anything they want, but if they did, could they get away with it. Did I mention that the HR mgr was really, really, against this and only did it because she was a little afraid of my former boss?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If it doesn’t set those terms for a particular length of time, then legally they could change it at any time. (They’re probably not likely to so don’t stress out over that. But legally they could.)

          That’s outrageous though about the HR person not wanting to put it in writing. I mean, it was probably overkill on your part to ask for it to be signed by all three people (especially since that won’t make it any more legally binding anyway), but their resistance to writing it all down is ridiculous.

          1. Phideaux*

            It wasn’t that she didn’t want to sign it, she didn’t want the company to do the deal, period! Since she wasn’t on board, but my (ex) boss and CEO were, I figured, why not get them to sign it as well.

            I guess I won’t worry too much about it. It’s just that having my boss suddenly gone is a little unsettling.

  15. Jamie*

    I see nothing wrong with a temporary pay increase, but as we are all (understandably) very sensitive about paychecks if I were the manager not only would I have put the temporary status of the raise in writing for her benefit – I’d have done it for my own.

    So if someone then complained later that they didn’t understand you whip out the letter with their signature of receipt and there’s no conversation.

    Why oh why don’t people put things in writing?

  16. PayDay*

    I recently received my annual increment and a promotion. It took my employer 3 months to make the changes to my pay rate. After six months, they learned that they made an “error” and that I now owe them money. Can they do that?

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