my company is cutting my overworked team’s pay as punishment for mistakes

A reader writes:

My team has been struggling with workload the last few months, and mistakes have been made by nearly everyone. We were notified by leadership that everyone would receive a temporary (two-month) pay cut because of our performance.

I was pulled aside and told this wouldn’t include me, as I’ve continued to do very well with no errors in my work. A few hours later, our grandboss pulled me aside and said it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t also receive a pay cut, and that I needed to take one for the team.

I’m very frustrated by this situation. I’ve always received “exceeds expectations” on my reviews, help our leaders with their work, and put in quite a bit of overtime. I have loved this job, but this whole situation is just making me wonder, “what’s the point?”

If I had made errors, I would not have had an issue with taking the pay cut with the rest of the team. In an ideal world, none of them would have received it because they are fantastic people who just have too much work on their plates right now.

I’m trying to find a professional way to voice my frustrations, without potentially causing more trouble. How do I politely tell them this is not how you motivate your high performers?

This is so messed up that I don’t know where to begin.

They’re overworking people and then cutting their pay as punishment when they make mistakes?

And they’re telling you that even though this pay cut is ostensibly punishment for bad performance and you’re doing well, you still need to accept a pay cut because of “fairness” and “to take one for the team”? By that logic, your manager and your grandboss should also accept pay cuts to take one for the team, no? After all, it’s supposed to apply across the board and not be parceled out by performance.

This is just utter BS on every level.

You don’t need to search for a “polite” way to explain this is wrong. It’s perfectly professional to say outright: “We have been overworked for several months, and it’s natural that that’s resulting in mistakes. People shouldn’t be punished for the natural result of overwork — we need more support and a realistic workload, not cuts to our pay. We will lose our best people if we do this, and they are the last people we should want to lose if we’re trying to raise performance team-wide.”

You might also consider saying, “I didn’t agree to work for $___ and since you’ve acknowledged there’s nothing about my work that warrants a cut, I need to know that my salary will be the amount we agreed on when I started” (or if you’ve had raises since you started, “the amount we agreed on at my last salary review”).

But an employer that does this to people isn’t one you can trust to act rationally, fairly, or in your interests. I’d strongly suggest cutting bait and running.

{ 358 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Since this is coming up a bunch below: This is legal as long as it’s not retroactive. In the U.S., a company can change your salary at any point as long as it’s only going forward, not retroactively, so you have the opportunity to say, “No, I won’t work for that wage.” (That assumes you don’t have a contract, which most U.S. workers don’t.)

    1. One HR Opinion*

      Missouri does have a law that you have to give the employee 30 days notice, but the penalty – a measly $50 per employee.

      From MO DOL:
      An employer may reduce an employee’s wages, providing the employee is given a 30-day advance written notice of a reduction in wages. This notice requirement does not apply if an employee is asked to work fewer hours or changes to a different position with different duties. Any company or corporation violating this requirement shall pay each affected person $50, which can be recovered through court action.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        This may be legal, but it is a really crappy thing to do. Poor performance needs coaching and direction, not knee-jerk punishment.

        And OP, I hope you find another employer that values your exceptional performance ASAP.

      2. Clefairy*

        Wow, $50 that can be recovered through court action- it would cost more than that to take the employer to court! I’m wondering if this law was enacted waaaaay back when $50 was a big chunk of change?

        1. starsaphire*

          My guess would be that someone tried to get this passed with a much larger fine, but it was gutted in committee (probably the original fine was more like $5K or something) and it was done this way as a “compromise.”

          Don’t mind me, I’m a cynic.

          1. T'Cael Zaanidor Kilyle*

            The Missouri Department of Labor is headed by a director who is appointed by the governor, who is a Republican. So I wouldn’t count on any action aimed at protecting employees from abusive practices.

            1. TVProf*

              Missouri government is highly highly dysfunctional and trying to beat Florida and Texas in a race to the bottom.

              1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

                Let’s set up a rivalry between Missouri and Indiana in this race.

    2. Dances with Flax*

      And as long as your new, cut salary doesn’t mean that you’ll be earning less than minimum wage.

      1. Starscourge Savvy*

        Yeah, most employment in the US is at-will (“employment may be terminated by an employer or an employee for a good reason, a bad reason, or simply no reason at all, absent a specific agreement to the contrary”).

        It’s pretty rare in my experience to have an employment contract here.

      2. metadata minion*

        Nope; there are a few specific industries where it’s standard, and otherwise contracts are generally only involved if you’re in a union.

  2. NYWeasel*

    Holy cow, talk about the absolutely worst thing you can do to try and fix the situation. Good luck OP!

    1. Seal*

      A one-step guide in how to trigger a mass exodus, subtitled how not to manage. Take Alison’s advice and run OP!

      1. Princess Sparklepony*

        Part of me would like to see the entire department quit en masse. But I know it’s not usually an option because of life things. It really would serve the company right though. But I am known to be petty.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      Well, how else are they going to afford their annual bonuses? Take one for the team, will ya?

      I hope LW does a full Kool-Aid Man through the wall the day she quits.

    3. I have RBF*

      This is my reaction as well.

      Even if my entire team was screwing up by the numbers because of overwork and unrealistic expectations, if they announced that there would be pay cuts as punishment? I would consider that a “resume generating event” and be one foot out the door.

      Management set you all up to fail with overwork and unrealistic expectations, and then punishes you for not meeting their unrealistic expectations? I would see that as a very clumsy manner of “managing out” your entire team, because that is what should happen: You should ALL leave as soon as you get new gigs lined up.

      “We’re cutting your pay…” is the equivalent of them saying “We don’t want to pay you enough for your work, go away.” And asking the one person who wasn’t “making mistakes” to take a cut too “for the team” is really bad management.

      Run, OP, run. Management thinks that optics and meting out “punishment” are worth more than you are.

      1. Reality Check*

        And notice management never considers they might be part of the problem?

        Agree it’s time to cut bait and run OP, and a sympathetic OH HELL NO to this whole situation.

        1. Some words*

          Not to mention, just where’s the management team’s responsibility in all this? After all, aren’t they ultimately accountable for the work output at the locations they manage? Perhaps they should receive a pay-cut. It’d only be fair.

          I understand that this is legal but I can’t overstate how wrong, by any metric, Boot on the Neck management is.

          1. WishIWasATimeTraveller*

            This. If the error rate is due to overwork then it’s the fault of management so they should take the pay cut off anyone does.
            Or maybe they could, you know, hire more people and address the issue?

            1. Inkognyto*

              They will be hiring more people to fix the issue alright. It’ll be all backfill.

              Each person that leaves is going to tell their friends and relatives why, and no one in that area will want to work.

              10 people can easily inform 100-200 people that a company sucks to work for by world of mouth. Now that social media exists it’s in the thousands

        2. Worldwalker*

          I have to interject a minor quibble here:

          “Fish or cut bait” means that one should either catch fish or prep bait for those who are. (referring to the kind of bait that needs to be cut, like strips of squid, etc.) Either do direct work or support work. Someone, someone has interpreted “cut bait” as “leave” and, like the similarly misunderstood “free rein,” it’s stuck. But no, “cut bait” doesn’t mean “cut out.” It means what it says — some types of bait need to be cut.

          Okay, now back to the discussion of how jaw-droppingly bad the OP’s managers are, and whether the grandboss should be entered in the “bad boss of the year” voting.

          1. Eyeball*

            Thanks for this! I had no idea.

            Of course, I’ve always preferred “sh’t or get off the pot”…

            1. Caliente Papillon*

              I think I know what THAT means! But would love it if someone came with some random chamber pot story…haha

          2. Sorrischian*

            Fascinating – I definitely assumed it meant something more like “either fully commit (to reeling in a difficult fish) or accept the sunk cost (of not getting your bait back on this cast) and cut it loose”. So I learned something new today!

          3. Hermione*

            I always thought the term “cut bait and run” was referencing literally cutting lines in a bad storm so the ship could leave, instead of waiting to pull up the lines.

            1. Bob-White of the Glen*

              Which is how Alison was using it, so I’m going with that interpretation.

            2. Worldwalker*

              I’ve only seen that as “cut the anchor cable” or the equivalent, and usually when under enemy threat, not just bad weather. Weather might move in fast, but not so fast that the anchor can’t be hauled up, let alone some fishing lines.

              My brain is full of all this sort of clutter, which is probably why I’m the person you see in the grocery store staring vacantly at the shelves trying to remember what I actually came there for.

            3. time for lunch*

              “Cut and run” is the expression you are thinking of. It does not involve bait. “Fish or cut bait” is different. It does not involve running. It is closer to “$h1t or get off the pot.” Make a decision. Do the main thing or get out of the way and let someone else do it.

              If you’re planning to or need to run, you wouldn’t take a minute to cut up some bait first. Definitely don’t be slicing bits of herring while in the midst of fleeing.

              It’s a conflation of two separate expressions that each have their utility but combined make no sense.

              1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                This so reminds me of one of the best quitting stories ever, involving fish.

          4. Princess Sparklepony*

            Interesting, so Fish or cut bait means either do the work or help the workers… (or possibly yourself.)

      2. Zombeyonce*

        Exactly. If I got a pay cut for making mistakes because I was overworked, I’d stop working that much. I’d slow down to a pace that was sustainable and if they complained, I’d remind them that I didn’t want to be punished for making mistakes. They’d be welcome to fire me since I’d probably get as much in unemployment as I got with the pay cut and I’d spend all the time I got back on applying for other jobs.

        1. Lily*

          “I’d slow down to a pace that was sustainable and if they complained, I’d remind them that I didn’t want to be punished for making mistakes.”

          This. A friend did something similar, then quit precipitously when she had another job lined up.

      3. AstridInfinitum*

        “Resume generating event” is now going to be part of my vocabulary moving forward! I love it!

        1. Lexi Lynn*

          Yeah, if they are going to try to cut my pay, they would only get the volume of work that could be done perfectly during regular business hours. They get nothing extra since they are trying to punish me for their bad decisions.

      4. Anonymous for this*

        My company just announced the second year of wage increases below COL, even including promotions – a net pay cut, in other words. Just a week or so earlier, the third “best year ever” with record profits were announced.
        Management does not seem to see the disconnect; recently a new employer branding was revealed and we are asked to tout the company in our network to attract new talent. Gumption much?

        1. AtLeastYouGotARaise*

          Be glad you got any raise. Many people I know haven’t gotten a raise in 2-3 years – not at all as rent, food, etc all increased significantly

      5. Lassiter*

        This my first time seeing the phrase “resume generating event” and I absolutely LOVE IT! Adding that one to my repertoire, thank you!

      6. Princess Sparklepony*

        RBF – I do love “resume generating event” and I’m hearing it in a Morgan Freeman voiceover. He really does some of the best voiceovers.

    4. Random Dice*

      I’m just imagining the inspirational poster in these managers’ offices:

      “Beatings will continue until morale improves”

      It’s a bitter JOKE, managers, not a suggestion on good management practices.

    1. Katrina*

      That was exactly my first thought reading this!

      Seriously, what an awful way to treat people. I don’t think the OP can run fast enough.

      1. yala*

        Same. It’s practically literal. Why do they think *less* pay will get *better* work out of the same number of employees?

        1. Worldwalker*

          I’d venture to guess that those employees will be working very hard in the next couple of months.

          Working on their resumes, working their networks, working on reading every word of Alison’s advice on writing good cover letters … just not the kind of work that the boss wants.

    2. Tracy Flick*

      …I think this is actually “The beatings will escalate until morale improves,” or possibly, “In addition to beatings, our Morale Improvement Plan now includes these cubicle vipers, which we are about to release on your floor.”

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Yeah, if they continue to make mistakes will their pay get cut more and more every payday until it’s nothing? How does this end?

    3. CanadianPublicServant*

      Malicious compliance: if my error rate determines my pay, welp, I guess the most important thing is to sllllooooooooow down and triple check everything to ensure I don’t make any errors! Those three things I get done are going to be PERFECT!

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        To the contrary, the LW’s pay is not being determined by their error rate. It logically follows that they can go ahead and produce sloppy work.

      2. Tau*

        A software dev conference I went to had a satirical talk along these lines. If bugs are bad, and the number of bugs correlate with the amount of code in a project, then clearly what we need to do is get people to write less code, thereby producing less bugs, thereby raising code quality! It went on to detail all sorts of suggestions for developers to avoid actually writing code and managers to incentive devs to not write code.

        If ever this approach was called for in real life…

        1. kupo*

          I worked with a guy who adopted the philosophy of more code means more bugs. Generally a good philosophy, if you apply it in a way that means clear, easy to read code broken into single responsibility services/methods. But this guy tried to apply it to the brackets after an if statement because they took up two extra lines. Notably, the only time brackets after if statements cause more bugs is when they’re missing, which is what he was advocating for.

        2. Heffalump*

          There was an episode of Dilbert where the pointy-haired boss announces that developers will get a bonus for every bug they find, and Wally says, “I think I’ll write myself a new minivan.”

      1. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

        This whole comment chain wins the internet and this one is insanely awesome!
        /Gul Dukat

    1. Addison DeWitt*

      I don’t know, I think “This is not the salary I agreed to when I came here, so as the terms of my employment have been unilaterally violated, this is my resignation, effective immediately” would work pretty well.

        1. danmei kid*

          It’s more effective if the entire team walks en masse.

          They’re already overworked – a walkout will hurt the business significantly.

        2. Zombeyonce*

          Right! I’d slow down to stop making mistakes instead and make them fire me first so I’d at least get unemployment.

      1. Artemesia*

        You say this in your head not out loud. And then immediately get your ducks lined up and start applying for jobs and you take one at your leisure when something better comes along.

        And yeah — if you need to take one for the team then your boss does too. And the focus needs to shift to lowering errors not producing product. Everyone does what they can to be error free and then goes home.

  3. The Original K.*

    If I had made errors, I would not have had an issue with taking the pay cut with the rest of the team.
    You should, because it’s ridiculous. “The beatings will continue until morale improves” is bad management, always.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Remember the letter from the person charged $2 a minute a for being late. “I understand that I was late and should be punished.”
      Um, no. No you should not be punished. You are not a misbehaving child. And neither is OP. And the fact that bosses are setting up OP to be mad at COWORKERS’ failing at their responsibilities and not MANAGEMENT for abdicating their own illustrates that OP is already in the boiling water.

      1. The Original K.*

        Yes! I’m pretty sure she had to pay the “late fine” in cash, and I remember posting at the time that I was certain her boss was just pocketing the money.

      2. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

        Also this is blatantly illegal in the US. You can’t fine people’s salaries as they are working for the time they are there. They need top be paid for the full time. You are stealing their money if you fine them.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Oh, it was not a coincidence that the supervisors were collecting the “fees” as cash from employees rather than anything that went through payroll.

      3. Rachel*

        I only had one employee which was that picky down to the minute and even they (think a large blue retail chain) didn’t fine us. Write us up, yes. The look on my next manager’s face when I asked if I could leave though it was one minute until the hour was priceless.

        Collective punishment was BS in school, and it is even more BS in the adult working world, if legal. Run while you can!

    2. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      AGREED, the worst part of this whole letter is that LW thinks that any of this might be reasonable!

    3. Starscourge Savvy*

      Agreed! Don’t let this workplace warp your thinking about what you do/don’t deserve! This is awful management.

  4. A Simple Narwhal*

    Sounds like it’s time to stop going above and beyond. No more helping the leaders with their work, no more overtime, only do exactly your job and nothing more. All while job-hunting like crazy.

    I’d also looove to know if boss and grandboss are also “taking one for the team”. You know, because of fairness.

    1. Antilles*

      Of course Boss and Grandboss aren’t taking one for the team. They are clearly perfectly innocent in this situation, with zero culpability for setting the team up to fail, so why should they take a pay cut.
      Could management be at fault for overworking people, misjudging the amount of labor necessary to do the work properly, not scheduling workloads correctly, failing to adjust client expectations/demands, or not paying close enough attention to projects slipping through the cracks?
      Of course not silly, none of those are remotely related, this is obviously the exclusive fault of the low level workers, definitely no higher level management fault here so our salaries should remain intact!

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Boy, almost like that last round of layoffs ended up gutting their actual employee reserves and expecting one person to do four jobs isn’t remotely feasible, or something! But hey, stock prices went up.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Yes, the same probably principle can be applied on both ends.

          After downsizing during the great recession, companies figured out how little staff/resources they could provide for and still get work done, and that became the new maximum amount they would ever provide.

          Well, now it’s labor’s turn. We’ll figure out what the minimum amount of work we can do without getting fired is, and that’s the new maximum amount we’ll do.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      I would not have been able to keep myself from saying: “…and your pay is being cut too, right?”

      1. Tracy Flick*

        Oh, dear, you must have missed the section on Pointed Questions Penalties in your Employee Handbook. I’m afraid that will be $75.00, plus a $25.00 add-on penalty for ‘tone indicating disgust, resentment, disgruntlement, and/or resignation (bitter).’

        1. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

          LOL, my favorite part of your delightful comment is “resignation (bitter)”. Does resignation (ennui) have a different penalty?

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Came here to say exactly this. The LW has gone above and beyond in difficult circumstances and the reward is a pay cut. If it was me, I’d start acting my wage. And start thinking if it makes sense long-term to work for a company that chooses to blame individual teams for bigger issues that they have no control over.

    1. Tinkerbell*

      Yes! Cut ties, run, AND let your team know how disgusted you are with the official decision and that you’ve tried to bring it up with management to no avail. Also promise that you will give them good reviews if anyone asks you, no matter what the company HR might say.

      1. KateM*

        Start by letting your team to know that it is time to start job-searching. And then quit all together in the manner that the story that Hlao-roo refers to suggests.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      If the OP needs some inspiration on how to leave, I highly recommend reading the post “I burned a bridge in a spectacular way — how do I deal with everyone talking about it?” from October 2, 2019.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          When that writer burned the bridge, it was so deserved that ashes of the bridge are venerated as holy relics.

      1. Penny Parker*

        I once did something like that. I was a new hire who was leading a sales team which had broken all sales records for our branch (I got a positive review in the company newsletter) then the next week my team and I turned around and broke that record. My “reward” was to have my bottom line commission removed. Well, that really pissed me off. So, I told my entire team that I was quitting in a week (without notice to management) and that I suggested they do the same. Also, that they could use their work time to apply for a new job and I did not expect them to make any sales. There were only two people who kept working (they didn’t like my personality).

        By the end of the week my manager came to the site and was steaming mad; there had only been two sales that week because the two who had kept working were the worst sales people in the team. I told her that I was quitting, and all but those two had also found another job. They had to close our location down. One of the proudest work moments of my career.

    3. Lilas*

      If the update to this letter is anything other than “we all quit en masse” I am going to be so pissed.

      1. Ashley*

        Quitting en masse is pretty tough because people need pay checks and health insurance, but I hope everyone is able to find great new jobs quickly.

              1. metadata minion*

                I’m all in favor of unionizing, but that’s generally a pretty lengthy process. If there’s a decent chance at a better job for the LW and coworkers, why not just do that? (And then unionize at the new, better-but-still-under-crappy-US-labor-laws place!)

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        “We all quit en masse using cod. Also we hid some extra cod behind the drawers in management’s desks.”

    4. MEH Squared*

      This was my immediate impulsive response as well. I know the OP probably can’t just quit, but I definitely think they should start looking. None of this is OK, OP. None of it.

  5. Onward*

    Overworking their employees then cutting pay because the employees are making mistakes. Wow. Just wow. Certainly seems like a way for the company to get more for less (even more than they were before). I’d start looking for a new position, OP, because this company is going nowhere fast, and they’re definitely not ethical.

    1. Tinkerbell*

      Yeah, convenient that the punishment happens to allow the company to save money, right? Especially since the cause – overworking and presumably understaffing – ALSO lets the company save money! Too bad all the employees are at fault :-\

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      Take a lesson from Esther Crawford, the Twitter employee who tweeted a photo of herself sleeping on her office floor. She just got fired.

      There is no level of work, self-sacrifice, or loyalty that means anything to these vultures. They will pick your bones clean and move on without a blink.

    1. Random Dice*

      Oh gosh yes

      SEND US AN UPDATE when you leave, and then again when you’ve had enough time at a normal sane non-bananapants abusive place to truly realize how awful it was.

  6. Lacey*

    Please just print out your letter and Alison’s reply and tack it up where everyone can see it, on your way out.

    1. AnonInCanada*

      Or email it to Boss and Grandboss along with the link to the your Glassdoor review on the way out as well.

  7. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

    Stupid, as well as immoral and heartless. Quality staff will leave, and Glassdoor reviews will discourage quality applicants from replacing them.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      You literally couldn’t pay me enough to work there.

      And it sounds like that’s literally true!

  8. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Get out, get out, get out. No good can come of continuing to work for these people.

  9. Sloanicota*

    I think I’m a bit confused, although yes this is whackadoo either way. When you say “my team” is OP the leader of the team? Or does she mean “my team of coworkers and I”? If OP is the boss or senior, I actually do think it would be crappy not to take equal responsibility for errors. However nobody should get a paycut about it, and OP should be looking for the exit either way.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      My interpretation was that it was the latter, “my team of coworkers and I”. Based on their response I feel like LW would have mentioned something like “I’m responsible for my team so I understand their mistakes are mine”, not just “I’m not making mistakes why am I getting punished too”. Plus they make several references to leadership (and not being part of it), and they also said our grandboss as opposed to my grandboss, which implies they all have the same grandboss aka they’re all on the same level.

      I might be reading too much into things but I feel like OP is not the boss here.

  10. Rage*

    I’d sort of always thought that “The beatings will continue until morale improves” was simply tongue-in-cheek sarcasm.

    That was clearly a mistake.

    Guess you’ll need to cut my pay, too.

  11. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    These people should realize they are lucky to have this job.
    Yeah. It’s just not GOOD luck.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      This is what I was thinking. If they are overworked because they are understaffed, this is a good way to become even more understaffed.

      When management’s first instinct to manage a difficult situation is to do the exact opposite of what is needed (hire more people! offer your current people more support!), that’s not a good sign.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Speculation downthread that they in fact want to close the division, and this is how they’re going to get that headcount down before the layoffs.

        1. Starbuck*

          Yes, it’s so horrible that it would make the most sense if they did actually want everyone to leave. But why they’re overworked… and then who will do that work…. maybe they’re going to outsource as well?

          1. Lexi Lynn*

            I wonder if that’s illegal. This might meet the standards for constructive dismissal and doing this before closing a division in order to avoid something like the WARN act might be illegal.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            My bet is on selling the line of business to another company. Lose people now = less payout then.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      Cheaper than paying severance in two ways! Take their cash, then wait for them to walk out!

  12. Another roof fiddler*

    Good grief. These are also the kinds of companies that whine about “quiet quitting” when folks start doing just their own work/job.

    Pull up a job board today OP and carve out time to apply to at least one thing this week. You need out and your leadership needs to learn the rule about “playing stupid games, get stupid consequences”.

    1. The Original K.*

      I’m in the US and I wondered the same thing. Maybe because it’s future pay that’s being docked, not docking pay retroactively?

    2. ecnaseener*

      As long as the pay cut doesn’t take them below minimum wage, and there’s no employment contract in place, and it’s not being applied on the basis of a protected class, there’s no law against reducing pay afaik.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        I remember a discussion here where someone was basically asking why workers would even want a contract. THIS. This bullcrappery is (one of many reasons) why you want a contract.

    3. GiGi*

      Generally, NO. Not unless there is some kind of an upfront agreement about such consequences but even then, you would be on shaky legal ground. Unless the mistakes resulted in missing money, damaged property or equipment or something like that. But that wouldn’t even be an ideal way to deal with those situations. But even legalities aside, this is TERRIBLE practice. It’s completely ineffective performance managment especially when the problem is the company’s making.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      Most people in the US aren’t working with a formal contract that spells out terms like salary, and so changing the terms is pretty easy. You can’t dock back pay, but you can hire someone and later announce “Starting next week, you will actually be earning half what you are now.”

      I’ve seen companies cut salaries across the board to get through a hard pinch–covid shutdowns most recently–but things then went back to normal, if the companies were functional.

    5. Your local password resetter*

      Because their pay isn’t actually locked down legally.
      Any company could do this, but most aren’t shortsighted or cruel enough to pull these stunts.

      Which says a lot on how bad this is. Even with no legal protections, it’s still very rare.

    6. Barry*

      Because it is the USA. For many Europeans, remember that in many respects, the USA is more third world than first world.

  13. Qwerty*

    Oh no. No, no, no, no.

    I thought companies couldn’t dock someone’s pay as punishment? My brain is stuck on “how is this legal” but I suspect the answer is “nothing specifically says it isn’t because we weren’t expecting this”. I wonder if the reason OP’s exemption got pulled was because the policy needed to be applied broadly to the whole team so that on-paper it looks like a cost saving measure rather than group punishment.

    OP, please start looking. In your exit interview, specifically point to this policy. For now, Glassdoor is your friend.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Company’s can retroactively dock your pay as punishment. That is, if they already paid you, they can’t take that money away (for the agreed upon rate–they can take back any accidental overages). But this company has notified the employees that it will pay them less in the future so it is legal. Shitty, but legal.

    2. Kara*

      Companies can’t cut your pay as punishment *if it takes the employee below minimum wage*. There may or may not be state laws, but that’s my understanding of the US federal law.

  14. Mellie Bellie*

    This is unfixable, LW. Get out now.

    Any group of people who went through the thought process of “we’ve got people making mistakes due to workload and the way to fix that is to cut their pay!” cannot be made to see reason and I’m guessing the problems go very, very deep here.

  15. Objection*

    Wow. It’s still only February, and we already have a prime candidate for Worst Boss(es) of the Year.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      100% agree. I can and have put up with some fairly high levels of bullshit in my day, but I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to my pay. And a paycut to “take one for the team” when my own performance is not an issue. Fuck. That. Noise. Completely.

      This is egregious completely unacceptable. I hope OP walks, gets a better job, and sends us one of those updates that makes everyone’s day.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        The second I hear “take one for the team” I know it’s time to walk. Because the request is never coming from someone willing to do the same.

    2. Cat Tree*

      I had the same thought. The bad bosses are really stepping up their game thus year. It’s a tough race already!

  16. Kyrielle*

    I suspect in a number of states, OP could quit as of the effective date of the change, and claim unemployment, since cutting salary sure sounds like a material change to the job to me. (I am not a lawyer OR an employment expert, and I’d check the details in YOUR state before running with this, OP – I’m just saying, this might be that bad.)

    1. Snow Globe*

      That is what I am thinking. In most states, I do believe you could qualify for unemployment based on reduced wages.

    2. Agile Phalanges*

      I think it usually has to be a pretty significant cut, and OP didn’t say what they’re looking at. If it’s 2%, probably not able to take unemployment, if it’s 50%, probably can. In between…who knows.

      1. Tracy Flick*

        OTOH, this isn’t a pay cut as in, “Going forward, your salary is lower.”

        This is a different and arguably more significant change to the terms of LW’s employment: “Going forward, if/when you (or your coworkers) make mistakes, we will dock your pay,” when there was no mention of any penalty/cut system before.

        It doesn’t sound like there are any guardrails on this new policy that would prevent them from making unpredictable or extreme cuts.

        She can also point to the fact that they went back and forth on whether or not the penalty would happen to her – that is, what her new salary would be, and what level of penalty risk she faces going forward.

        I know the legal answer is probably that this is still not significant. Just, this isn’t quite the same as a new policy that imposes a %5 pay cut as a penalty for a specific set of errors.

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I suspect that in my state a salary cut — especially with documentation that the paycuts are due to mistakes that other people made — would be adequate reason to grant UI benefits if you end up walking away. We grant it when new management changes the goalposts for job duties and expectations, seems like salary would be similar.

      So if you’re willing to walk away without something in the works, apply for the UI. You might as well.

      1. Double A*

        Yes, and a company’s UI insurance goes up with every successful claim, so companies generally don’t like people to succeed at getting unemployment unless absolutely necessary.

    4. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Yeah, check with your state. I **think** in some states you can also file for unemployment to make up the missing portion due to a pay cut if the cut is more than a certain percentage. Since your company has to pay for unemployment insurance, they’re basically going to end up paying you anyway if your state does this. I’d encourage all members of your team to look into that possibility.

      1. SofiaDeo*

        I thought that is only applicable for “hostile work environment” claims. Cutting pay doesn’t meet that definition.

        1. MarsJenkar*

          Constructive discharge is any situation where management makes the work situation unpleasant enough that any reasonable person would quit. I dunno if this situation goes quite that far, but it doesn’t necessarily require a “hostile work environment” according to the law (though a hostile work environment can fit the criteria).

  17. Heidi*

    Anyone else got the impression that the mistakes are an excuse and the pay cut is really because the company is in financial trouble? That could explain why the OP is also getting a pay cut despite not making mistakes. In any case, not worth staying around to find out. Yikes.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I would be so unsurprised by an update in which the salary shortfall was going to fund the shenanigans of someone in middle management, who expected no one to notice because, after all, he told the hamstrung employees this was all their fault.

    2. Decidedly Me*

      Nah – 2 months of one person’s pay is not going to make any kind of material difference for a company that is in financial trouble.

      1. Bee*

        Right, if it were *going forward indefinitely* I might buy that, but this is going to save them what, a few thousand dollars?

      2. Forkeater*

        No, but maybe they are hoping people will quit so they don’t have to lay them off and pay unemployment.

      3. Fikly*

        Oh, you think it’s going to end at 2 months? Based on what, exactly?

        Financial trouble, however, means the execs want to be paid more.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        You’re assuming management/ownership was reasonable enough to know that. AAM is full of examples to the contrary.

    3. Observer*

      Anyone else got the impression that the mistakes are an excuse and the pay cut is really because the company is in financial trouble?

      Definitely. Still gross of course, but another good reason to start job searching. HARD.

    4. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

      That was my first thought: The salary cuts are designed to cover a budgetary shortfall, and — like ‘one-time, temporary’ taxes — once the salary cuts are imposed, there will always be a reason not to reinstate the full salary: ‘Oh, you’re still making mistakes, so we’re going to keep the salary reduction in place.’

      And then, as people rightly leave, they’ll hire new employees at that reduced (or even lower) salary. But if your finances are that dire, you’re screwed no matter how much you try to pinch pennies.

    5. goddessoftransitory*

      Anybody who runs a business this way? I would not be surprised if the direction was “into the ground.”

  18. MishenNikara*

    Sad thing is this comes painfully close to home working in grocery online pickup for a certain big company. We have requirements for picking speed, but we also got new people who not only haven’t gotten much practice since they never upped my dept’s hours, they have gotten limited 1-on-1 just because most of the time we are trying to get stuff done on time. Since we got people under goal tho they keep cutting our hours to the point there isn’t even enough for union mandated minimums for everyone (much less giving them enough time to get practice and retain anything), and I am down by half since the holidays while actually making my speed goals.

    It may not be called a pay cut for me….but its a pay cut and I absolutely feel your frustration for your situation, what’s probably your department’s frustration, and absolutely seethe at the whole thing.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Lots of lousy things are legal – that’s capitalism, baby.

      (Years ago, my husband’s previous job cut pay for everyone across the board due to budget woes; I suppose that’s different but it still sucked.)

  19. Goody*

    Something in the back of my desiccated brain is telling me that docking pay for performance issues might possibly be illegal. A quick Google search tells me that there’s no federal prohibition but that many states have additional protections in place. OP should investigate the specifics related to their location.

  20. Allornone*

    Wow. I know we have a Worst Boss of the Year award, but can we have a Worst Company of the Year? Because this would definitely be a contender.

      1. Just a different redhead*

        I wonder if maybe the “household name” companies shouldn’t be eligible for this competition though… But then it gets into quibbling so probably that’s not going to end up as reasonable as it sounded in my head.

  21. Festively Dressed Earl*

    I wonder if the company just wants to cut the whole department loose but doesn’t want to take the hit on their unemployment tax. Outrageous mismanagement that forces employees to leave is easy and cheap so long as you have no ethics.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      They should still be eligible for unemployment since cutting pay is a material change to the terms of employment which I believe is an exception to “voluntary termination of employment”

      1. Starbuck*

        I’m sure it varies by state – where I live, if they cut your pay or hours by 25% (or more) then you qualify.

        1. Festively Dressed Earl*

          Yup. Some ’employer friendly’ states will bend themselves into filigree to avoid giving unemployment. Ours wouldn’t consider this material unless the pay cut was significant AND permanent.

  22. slashgirl*

    Shouldn’t this pay cut go all the way up the line to the top person (if you follow the “the team made mistakes, you didn’t but to be fair” line of thinking)? Their decisions (and those along the way) that have created this situation. And I thought the CEO was responsible for everything that happens on their watch?

    Unless it involves a pay cut, of course.

    Run like the wind OP….

  23. Pick A Little Talk A Little*

    Let me tell you a story, LW.

    When I was at university, one of my professors gave us tests at the end of every unit. On one of these tests, no one in the class got higher than a 60%. The professor came in on the Monday after he graded our tests and said “It’s clear to me that I didn’t do my part in setting you all up to be successful. I’m not going to enter these test scores into the grade sheet. Instead, we’re going to spend the week reviewing, and you’re going to ask me as many questions as you need to ask me, and then we’ll take the test again.”

    This is the realization your bosses SHOULD have had.

    If a manager realizes that a high percentage of their team is making multiple mistakes on a regular basis, that’s not a call for punishment, it’s a call for asking questions. You meet with your staff and “check their temperature.” Do they understand the tasks they’ve been assigned? Do they have the resources they need to complete the work? Do they have adequate time to go slowly and ensure their work is correct the first time? What needs to be done to get staff to the place where they need to be to reduce the rate of mistakes?

    LW, your management is putting 100% of the blame on your coworkers without doing even the barest investigation of how management may be contributing to the problem. They suck, and my advice to you is to find a job where management wants to help their staff succeed instead of just punishing them when they fall short.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      My mom had that moment as a first-year teacher. She figured if a few people failed, that was on them; when the whole class failed, that was on her. It’s a good lesson, and I pulled it out fairly recently when a manager was complaining their whole team was screwing something up. If it’s ALL of them, it’s not them.

    2. The OG Sleepless*

      That is exactly what my mom did when she was a brand new teacher, the first time she gave a test. The whole class failed. Oops. She made a new test and gave it to them instead.

    3. Yup*

      I had my pay cut during the worst of covid. I’m a physician and some of us (myself included) volunteered to work the inpatient shifts in order to reduce exposures to covid to fewer people (so those with kids, immunocompromised family etc didn’t see patients). Ended up working 80+ hours a week for a few months at the worst times. The department was making less money due to no non-emergent surgeries being done. Decision was made to cut everyone’s salary regardless of whether they were working/seeing patients or not. I’m looking for another job

      1. ShinyPenny*

        I just need to say, I am filled with rage on your behalf.
        Good luck finding a wonderful new job.

  24. Hiring Mgr*

    Did this company see that old “Beatings will continue until morale improves” joke and think it was aspirational?

  25. ATC*

    Sorry to hear the LW.

    I had similar messed up-ness at a former employer. The company sent everyone a book about EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System). The book had analogies like this: there’s a table, seats can sometimes be rearranged and there’s no seat for you. No seat means you’re getting laid off. The company had been acquired a year earlier and a lot of teams were starting to be laid off and replaced.

    On a Friday, my team was told we would be laid off in 12 months. On Monday, there was the yearly all staff meeting. The Chief Financial Officer talks about pain points. He lists my team as a top 5 pain point. The reason? There’s too much work for my team and there’s no money to hire more staff for my team. So how exactly is my team a pain point when 1) you don’t want to hire more staff and 2) you don’t want to cut down on the projects you want us to complete? It was 2020 and we were all working remotely. So called in, but I was working on my resume and cover letter.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      This sounds like a ploy to get people on your team to work more hours. Maybe I’m wrong, but telling people a YEAR in advance that they’ll be laid off sounds suspicious, especially when coupled with there is too much work for your team to do and it’s causing a problem,

    2. Just a different redhead*

      I guess the team was a pain point because the way you were being forced to operate, you (on the team) may have been in pain? XD
      (Doubt that’s how he meant it, but…)

  26. AnonInCanada*

    Holy mother of bleep! I didn’t just read this, did I? Yes, I would say exactly what Alison said, maybe add a few choice cuss-words, ask Grandboss if they’re also taking a 20% pay cut since they should also “take one for the team?” I wonder how many mistakes will happen once the entire team quits en masse (you included, OP) and Grandboss can do all the work mistake-free? Yeah, right!

  27. CommanderBanana*

    You need to get out of there. This reeks of a company getting into financial trouble, and even if that’s not the case, this is so beyond egregious that I could not imagine continuing to work for this company.

  28. I should really pick a name*

    If I had made errors, I would not have had an issue with taking the pay cut with the rest of the team

    This means the company’s horrible practices are starting to seem normal to you.
    Run. Now.

    1. AnonInCanada*

      Definitely this, OP. Get away from them before they really warp your brain out of how businesses should treat their employees. Take the rest of your team with you. None of you deserve this.

    2. goddessoftransitory*


      You should have the entire bound run of issues first edition in hardback coverslips for this, LW!

  29. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Presumably nobody’s living expenses will go down during the time the pay cut is in operation, so they may find themselves motivated to get side jobs, which will result in MORE mistakes because no one is getting enough downtime. Then there’s all the work time that people are going to devote to job-hunting …

  30. Falling Diphthong*

    Without potentially causing more trouble.

    OP, I want you to check out today’s second letter. Sometimes you should be willing to cause trouble. You’re doing a great job, but the people who won’t hire anyone to fix the workload in your department feel you need to be punished anyhow for fairness?

    There’s a speculation upthread that they want to cut your division loose, which I find quite plausible. You could be so good, gooder than good, and it just means you will be one of the people laid off at your lower salary with two weeks severance in six months, rather than one of the people who quit in frustration at this dumpster fire management.

    Seriously, go read the comments on letter 2 about how we blame the people close to us for not going along with ludicrous things imposed by people far from us.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I agree, lots of similarities with that earlier letter from today in that being at this company is warping the OP’s sense of what is normal and acceptable.

      “I can see their point” about docking pay for two months (!) for making mistakes caused by understaffing/overworking conditions brought about by management decisions, instead of recognizing that this is Not Okay.

      “I can see their point” about management pressure to work evenings, weekends, and on vacation and sick days because clients expect it, instead of working to have better work life balance.

      It is obviously not easy to just up and quit, but if your company is making you think that your coworkers are the bad guys or deserve this kind of treatment when it’s 100% management’s horrible practices, you should job hunt ASAP.

  31. Observer*

    How do I politely tell them this is not how you motivate your high performers?

    By finding a new job.

    And in the interim, you do not do any further over-time, nor step up to help your manager or anyone other than your beleaguered co-workers if you can do that without affecting your own work. If your manager asks what happened, tell them that since you had to take a pay cut even though your work is good, you have decided that it’s only fair that you do only what you are being paid for, and no more.

    Also, you have just learned something VERY important about your employer. They have ZERO notion of actual fairness. They are manipulative (“take one for the team”? what kind of nonsense is that!? Your pay cut is not helping anyone *on the team*!) And I think that they are dishonest. They claim that the pay-cut is because the team “deserves” it despite knowing that the workload is impossible. But, by their own admission, YOU don’t “deserve” it according to THEIR criteria. So why are they doing this? Not because people are not doing their jobs well, but because they want to wring some more money and work out of people at the lowest cost.

    It does make me wonder if the business is in trouble. It certainly provides a good reason for leaving if a prospective employer asks. “I suspect that the company is having financial problems, as they cut my entire team’s salary for two months. And they did this irrespective of performance.”

    1. I have RBF*

      It does make me wonder if the business is in trouble. It certainly provides a good reason for leaving if a prospective employer asks. “I suspect that the company is having financial problems, as they cut my entire team’s salary for two months. And they did this irrespective of performance.”


      Either the company is in financial trouble, or management is clueless and abusive. Possibly both. But if a company cut my entire team’s pay I would strongly suspect that they were having financial troubles.

      Run away.

  32. Susannah*

    I would very, very rarely suggest quitting with no notice, unless there’s a personal safety issue involved. But if they don’t back off, I hope you’ll all walk out at once.

    Let boss and grandboss, who didn’t get paycuts, fix the “mistakes” that upset them so.

  33. Eagle*

    Vote with your feet as soon as you have a new job lined up. Make sure your resignation cities the pay cut as one of the reasons (if not the main) you are leaving. But leave. The fact that you think this is even fair to the other employees is very telling of the toxic work environment you have been in too long.

  34. Jenny*

    If the pay cut is severe enough you could consider this constructive dismissal in some jurisdictions. Under the right circumstances, they could treat this as a firing and file for unemployment. It really depends on information I don’t have.

    Either way, run.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I’m putting that down to “frog in hot water” syndrome – ie. you don’t know something is wrong if the wrongness creeps up on you and is presented as perfectly normal.

      From that perspective, it might seem reasonable that mistakes are penalized, esp. if you don’t know that this is NOT the way things are supposed to be.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      There are any number of examples on the site of people waving away ridiculous actions with “obviously this thing is the norm” when it turns out just to be the norm in this one particular office.

  35. Sara Smiles*

    Mistakes in the workplace are normal and when everyone is making a lot of mistakes it says more about the working conditions than the actual employees doing the work.

    OP please don’t accept any of this; even if you HAD made mistakes a pay cut isn’t the answer, more training and shadowing by the employees making mistakes is what needs to happen. Consider getting out of there and finding an organization that handles things the right way. Either management is really screwy or the company is in financial trouble. Either way, an swift exit is the best course of action

  36. Le sigh*

    Stories like these remind me of the one about the newly hired, well-heeled gentleman who, upon arriving one morning to some crazy pants management, simply said “Oh, that won’t do” and walked out never to be seen again.

    1. Goldenrod*

      ““Oh, that won’t do” and walked out never to be seen again.”

      ha ha, I LOVE that! What a wonderfully understated way to make a very STRONG statement. That guy sounds like a class act!

      I have to say, it’s distressing to feel that you can no longer be shocked by bad management….but then you hear about something like this and realize, wow, I somehow did not set the bar low enough.

      I’ve never walked out on a job in my life but….yep, this would be the one!

    2. Artemesia*

      The beauty of that one, is that it was a highly specialized job and very hard to fill and they found their unicorn and then on the day he came in some BS new rule was instituted — I seem to recall it was a denial of previously allowed flex time and butts must be in seats at 8 am — and he said ‘Oh, that won’t do’ and they were back to hunting another unicorn.

    3. Hlao-roo*

      From the “resigning via cod, a glorious out-of-office message, and other quitting stories” post, in full because it is amazing:

      A colleague’s good friend had been wooed up by my company for a good 6 months. He was utterly qualified in ways we needed, a very nice guy, the perfect employee. Alluring phone calls, escalating propositions, nice dim sum lunches, they went all out. Finally, he accepted, and a starting date was set.

      We had flextime at that company, meaning every waking hour was spent there but you could pretty much choose when to be awake. Alas, that particular week a couple of us (I’m one of the guilty parties) had particularly gnarly personal things to deal with before getting to work, and consistently didn’t make it in before 11-12. And equally alas, we were on the West Coast in financial services, so we already started the day ‘late’ by market standards, and to add to this the CEO was a fanatical morning person. Normally he left us to it, but this specific week he was in a bad mood, and got riled up by our seeming slackness (partly caused by staying at work way past his bedtime, but that’s another story).

      So he did what Alison repeatedly warns you not to: instead of dragging the culprits into his office and giving them the personal drubbing he thought they deserved, he wrote a memo to everyone. So on his second day that Second Coming Guy meandered in to work, at a reasonable 10ish, and he found a memo on his chair saying something like ‘I’d like to remind y’all that technically your working hours are 8-5, and that you really should be here as close to that as possible blah blah blah.’ He raised his elegant eyebrows, said in a not overly loud but very clear tone of voice, ‘Oh, I can’t deal with that,’ delicately put the memo back on the chair, and walked out, never to be seen again.

      Nobody was ever reprimanded for their hours again at that place, not even a hint.

    4. Enai*

      I think he wasn’t rich, just very exceptional at what he did. The kind of expert/wizard who can call his next manager, whose offer he just turned down, and say something to the effect of “So, my first choice just imploded due to surprise bananacrackers – any chance you’d still like to hire me?” and have the answer be “Can you start tomorrow?”.

      1. Random Dice*

        The elegant eyebrows and perfectly pitched tone can’t have hurt either.

        This person is who I dream of becoming.

  37. learnedthehardway*

    I would be seriously pushing back on this. Your whole team should be doing so. The right answer to a team being overworked is to ADD STAFF, not to penalize people for making mistakes because they are over-worked.

    If you don’t get anywhere with pushing back, I would work to rule (ie. no more extra effort) and would put my energies into a job search. Frankly, I’d be job hunting, anyway.

  38. Mehitabel*

    LW, you and your whole team really should just walk out and leave your bosses to figure things out for themselves.

    Good luck to all of you.

    1. TootsNYC*

      at the very least, everybody should call in sick. And go to the doctor’s to get a note to back it up and make it bulletproof.

  39. FrivYeti*

    I feel like the correct response here is to job hunt, get a new job ASAP, and when you get it, turn in your one day’s notice. When they demand two weeks, you just tell them that your notice period was cut because of management performance.

      1. FrivYeti*

        It would definitely *not* be professional, and if I’m being honest whether I did that would be based pretty heavily on how much sway this company has in the wider industry and how much effort they’re willing to go to to be vindictive, but my gut says that if OP quits in response to the pay cuts it’s going to torpedo their reference regardless of how politely they do it, so they might as well go out with a bang.

  40. ComputerJanitor*

    Depending on how much your pay is cut, this may be considered constructive dismissal by your state’s unemployment office. You may be able to claim unemployment benefits even while working for these nut jobs.

  41. SMH*

    Besides multiple resignations I am picturing employees refusing to go above and beyond because of the pay cut, doing their job and nothing more, and hopefully taking as much vacation as possible. There may not be as many mistakes but there also won’t be as much work completed. Hopefully this is posted on Glassdoor for future hires.

    1. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

      Yessss to Glassdoor. This needs to be public knowledge for anyone who might apply to work at this place.

  42. CSRoadWarrior*

    Start looking for a new job immediately and run as fast as you can! Your workplace sounds like it is full of bees. Your team is extremely overworked, and in general, employees that are extremely stressed out are more likely going to make mistakes due to burnout. This is so messed up on so many levels I am beyond words.

    Alison is right, this employer cannot be trusted. No reasonable employer in their right mind would do this. Leave as soon as you can and don’t look back.

  43. Ama*

    I agree with everyone else who says this is definitely worth leaving over. Your company has clearly demonstrated that they don’t care about you at all.

    But I wanna add that it’s highly likely that at least some, if not several of your coworkers are likely to leave over this. (Because that’s a reasonable response when you’re overworked and the company responds by cutting pay). So your team is about to get even more understaffed and over worked. How much do you trust your company to handle that well?

    1. mreasy*

      Yep that’s the thing, at least a couple of folks will leave over this, and his company doesn’t seem likely to replace them. Throw the whole workplace away!!

  44. Michelle Smith*

    “How do I politely tell them this is not how you motivate your high performers?”

    By finding a new job where you are actually respected. That’s pretty much your option here.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Actions, consequences. Often people who were unwilling to learn in response to carefully worded explanations suddenly figure it out when a consequence kicks them in the head.

      (This is a whole subthing on parenting, how much pain can you spare your children by carefully explaining to them what you learned from experience, and when do they need the experience themselves.)

  45. mreasy*

    I would be tempted to reach out to HR at my company’s primary competitor(s), and let them know that a whole passel of talented folks are being dealt with this way… in the event they need anyone.

  46. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Yes, I would also remind my management, “You realize, ‘Office Space’ is a satire, right? It is NOT a management tutorial.”

  47. Coffee Bean*

    Wow, OP. Your company exercised some stellar common sense when they decided to implement a practice that will prompt people to leave. This will lead to even more substantial understaffing. And more errors. And that is all on this company’s leadership, not the employees doing the work.

  48. That_guy*

    In New York at least, but I suspect it is true in other states as well, any change in compensation must by notified in writing before it takes effect. I would insist that they do this and then leak it to local media with everything but the name of the company redacted. Also, make sure they know the full story.

  49. Ann Onymous*

    Today’s lesson in how NOT to retain high performers. If the company keeps pulling these shenanigans, eventually the only employees they will have left are the ones with no other options. LW, now might be a very good time to start exploring your other options.

  50. Anony Moose*

    I’d quickly and quietly look for a new job and low-key encourage the team to do the same.

    This is absolutely awful and typical of executive ignorance and shamelessness.

  51. WillowSunstar*

    I’ve never understood the tendency of some companies to treat grown adults like very young school children. This isn’t a class where one child made a mistake and lied about it, so now everyone must be punished to teach the one child a lesson. These are grown adults. I would absolutely leave a company that did this to me, especially in this economy. They are certainly going to lose a lot of good people over it.

    1. Danish*

      Some people only have one mental model for hierarchy and it’s Exasperated Parent of Disappointing Children

      1. Jackalope*

        Yes, I remember having a sub treat us that way at school and it was an utterly frustrating experience. Those of us who cared were helpless to change things and got punished for something we had no control over. Those kids who were acting out were either indifferent or unable to change their behavior. Either way, there was no point and no lessons learned in punishing all of us.

    2. CSRoadWarrior*

      I totally agree. This reminds me of elementary school days where teachers would punish the whole class for one student’s mistake. Employees are grown adults, and should be treated as such.

      1. Observer*

        Yes, employees are grown adults and should be treated that way. But this has nothing to do with the situation. Because punishing everyone for the mistakes of some is a bad practice with kids too. It’s bad practice in almost every situation – in fact, I can’t really think of a situation where it does make sense.

        1. AABBCC123*

          The only one I can think of, and I don’t even agree with it, is MAYBE things like the military, or firefighting, and not even so much as punishment, but rather a simulation of how, if someone makes a mistake the situation gets that much harder to deal with?

  52. Evil loaf of bread*

    I’m gonna need a whole lot of baby skunk pictures to cope with this.
    (look at their little noses!)

  53. fgcommenter*

    If I had made errors, I would not have had an issue with taking the pay cut with the rest of the team.

    No. Your pay is already a small percentage of what you earn or save for the company. That’s how companies profit, and that is nominally justified by saying you don’t get the benefit of owning the profit because you don’t take the risk of owning the loss.

  54. Greg C.*

    I worked at a large company – one that you’ve heard of – and my team made a serious mistake that impacted a large number of our customers. My manager, who is not a shit head of the highest order, responded with, “In a way this is good – I’ve been trying to tell people for a long time that we’re understaffed and overworked and now they might pay attention.”

  55. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Is that company’s mission statement “The floggings will continue until morale improves”?

  56. I have RBF*

    My team has been struggling with workload the last few months, and mistakes have been made by nearly everyone. We were notified by leadership that everyone would receive a temporary (two-month) pay cut because of our performance.

    WTF? So, I always understood that when people are overworked and rushed, more mistakes are inevitable. Management should know this. The fact that their response is to penalize the entire team with a pay cut is just astonishing. It’s severely shirking their responsibility, and punishing you all for their incompetence.

    The first thing I would be doing in this situation is updating my resume, and every evening after work submit it to two or three jobs. Then I would advise my coworkers to do the same thing, because this is BS.

    Then I would introduce the concept of “work to rule”. No more OT unless explicitly paid for it and it is requested by management. They are treating you like hourly people, or children at school, so they get no extras.

    Since “mistakes” are the issue that is costing people pay, maybe you need to start a buddy system to check each other’s work. If you’re all going to get screwed by a few mistakes, then you all need to take the time to check each other’s work. Maybe even make it formal, to indicate you are “serious” about mitigating the impact of mistakes that is costing you money. Sure, it takes longer, and less gets done total, but what is rewarded or punished is what drives output, you need to put priority on lack of errors over total throughput. They have made it plain that perfection is the priority. When it’s “fast, cheap or right, pick two” and they have picked “cheap and right”, you need to respect that.

    But seriously, your first priority is finding an employer that is not a jerk when you can’t meet unrealistic expectation.

  57. TootsNYC*

    unified action: everybody quits. Or everybody just doesn’t show up the next day. A work stoppage.

  58. Enjolras*

    I’ll see you all on the barricades

    Do you hear the people sing?
    Singing the song of angry men?
    It is the music of the people
    Who will not be slaves again!
    When the beating of your heart
    Echoes the beating of the drums
    There is a life about to start
    When tomorrow comes!

  59. Aries Remington*

    Somewhat relatable. I worked for a public university in the early 1990s. The Athletic Department blew through its budget and then some. To compensate, the university (1) set the Athletic Departments next fiscal year’s budget at that higher level, and (2) cut the salaries and wages of all employees to cover that increased budget. I received a 2 percent cut for the idol of football. The university rewarded the offenders and punished the innocent.

    1. JelloStapler*

      University athletics > everyone else at said University.

      I’ve had the experience when two University programs did not meet goals and ruined the whole place’s budget, the rest of us felt the cuts and the added pressure. I am not sure those programs were held accountable in the same way.

    2. wendelenn*

      It is the case in many states, I think, that the highest paid State employee in the whole state is the football coach at the State University.

  60. abca*

    LW, please stop doing overwork to prevent making mistakes. That could be one reason why management has these unrealistic expectations for your team. “LW makes few mistakes, so clearly these expectations are not unreasonable”.

    1. Observer*

      Nah. If they were actually THINKING, I could see this happening. But they are NOT thinking, otherwise they would not cut the OP’s pay. They would instead point to the OP as “proof” that their expectations are reasonable, and the rest of them are all a bunch of goof offs.

  61. JelloStapler*

    Another instance of US companies being allowed to screw over their workers. :( Do they think this will keep people working versus more people quitting and then having more of a work overload due to attrition???

  62. ReallyBadPerson*

    Wow. I hope that when you and all of your sorely abused colleagues depart, you out this terrible company in every venue you can think off. Glass Door. Screen Door. Latrine Door. The door to Wittenberg Church. All the doors.

  63. Buffy Rosenberg*

    On the legality, is there any way of demonstrating it was applied to people with a particular characteristic? Like if everyone who had their pay cut happened to be women, and those who weren’t happened to be men?

  64. Sharpie*

    Run away run away! And if you can persuade your team to all walk at the same time too, even better.

    There was a letter once where almost the entire team at an outlying office gave their notices in at the same time because of mismanagement and no oversight from the main office, but in that case they all had jobs to go to at a competing company. I would love for this OP and team to be able to do the same.

    This is gross mismanagement from OP’s company, morale is going to be in the toilet and nobody is going to want to do their best work for a company that so completely screws people over at the drop of a hat. Run away!!

  65. Tiger Snake*

    OP: If you thought you were overworked NOW, imagine how overworked you will be when everyone leaves for a job that pays what was agreed.

  66. Kan*

    This has nothing to do with worker mistakes. Nobody docks pay, en masse, due to “worker errors”. They’re not trying to “motivate workers”. To me, this sounds like a sinking ship that’s running low on available cash, needs to cut pay, but doesn’t want to own the mismanagement. They think they can hide the fact that they’re failing, for awhile longer, by telling the workers that they’re being punished.

    Basically, mom and dad made a bad investment and need to cancel the family vacation, but they’ve decided to tell the kids that it’s because their grades weren’t high enough to deserve it. It’s because mom and dad don’t have the cash. Period.

    1. TootsNYC*

      or they can encourage workers, including the LW, to leave without the work of firing them or the expense of severance and unemployment.

      I wonder if OP’s state is one in which the employer makes the payments, or their premiums go up.

  67. Ama*

    The only thing this is going to achieve is make it far more likely that if someone makes an error in the future, they are more likely to try to cover it up — and they’ll probably get their coworkers’ help in doing so, since no one is going to want to take a pay cut again.

    1. TootsNYC*

      such an important point!

      As a parent, I internalized this.

      A grownup cousin was telling the story of the time he got his dad’s car towed from a parking space and had to hide it from him. His dad overheard and yelled at him at length about it. It had been decades ago; the kid paid the fee; the dad had never known. Dad was still mad.

      I told my husband, “We do not want to be the parents who are so hard on our kids that they go through something difficult and hide it from us. God forbid they get arrested for loitering, or they get towed, or they crash the car, and they could USE our greater life experience, our adult savvy, and even some money to handle the problem–but they won’t tell us because they’re afraid of our reaction.”

  68. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

    Sounds like they don’t want the people to stay. You figure there’s some businesses out there that are like revolving doors. When it comes to their workers. I would be like no I’m not taking a pay cut. If you’re punishing me due to incompetence, why aren’t you guys (upper management )taking a massive pay cut as well? I highly doubt that they would respond favorably to you, but I think it’s worth capital to push back against getting a pay cut .Best of luck ,LW. I don’t think it’s going to get any better at your company so if it was me in your situation I would be looking for a different job right now.

  69. Kelly*

    I worked for a guy who would have loved to think of this. He complained about paying taxes on our after hours “bonuses” (the client had to pay an additional fee that we got) and threatened to make us work double weekends and take away our bonuses when we complained about being overworked and exhausted. I was told if I wanted to be paid decently for the amount of work I did I needed to work even more hours (50 was bare minimum) and start charging clients for more things despite his habit of discounting services severely (we got paid on commission).

    Have the money making staff quit at once. These weren’t the only signs it was a toxic waste dump of a business. We also had a “beatings will continue until morale improves” meeting during which we were yelled at and told to quit if we were unhappy.

  70. Seems Suspicious*

    Maybe I’m just a suspicious person, but I wonder how many other people have continued to do very well but are being asked to take one for the team. Because gosh, it just wouldn’t be fair otherwise!

    If they’re willing to overload you with work and then cut your pay because you can’t keep up, then they’re definitely willing to secretly reassure each of you individually that you’re each individually doing well while outwardly telling the team that you’re getting pay cuts because none of you are doing well. Every single one of you should run fast and run far.

  71. Sara without an H*

    If I had made errors, I would not have had an issue with taking the pay cut with the rest of the team. In an ideal world, none of them would have received it because they are fantastic people who just have too much work on their plates right now.

    Letter Writer, even if your C suite wasn’t obviously vicious, I’d still recommend getting out. The very fact that you could write these two sentences indicates that you’ve been too long at a dysfunctional workplace and it’s starting to warp your sense of what’s normal.

    Several upstream commenters have suggested that the pay reduction has nothing to do with performance issues and is rather a symptom of financial instability. If your firm really is in financial trouble, the pay reduction won’t go away in two months. And why would it, if they can get you all to work for less money??

    From now on, work to rule. No over time, no volunteering to help your managers. Come in on time, work eight hours, then leave. Make sure your work is of good quality, but don’t do more of it than you can comfortably accomplish in a normal work day.

    Start job hunting. Read everything in the AAM archives on job searching, resumes, and cover letters. Update your LinkedIn profile (if you use it), alert your network, and start checking job boards. Discreetly encourage your coworkers to do the same.

    Either the firm is unstable, the management is abusive, or both. In either case, there’s no need to wait to get the last twitch of agony. Get out and send us an update when you do.

  72. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    [“I’d strongly suggest cutting bait and running.”]

    I would suggest that the whole team bail ASAP, preferably all at once.

  73. Genuinely wth*

    Since you seem willing to accept this, I am guessing that this is not the only thing that your company is doing that is messed up. As Alison said, you have no reason to trust these people. For all you know, everyone’s work is acceptable, but the higher-ups are trying to find ways to raise the profit margins of the company and they decided that cutting the pay of the lowest paid employees is the best way to achieve that.

    Push back as a group, ypu have nothing to lose (except maybe a toxic job). I’m inclined to think you would be valued more elsewhere and that you should start looking.

  74. AABBCC123*

    Quit, then name and shame them on Glassdoor. Although I agree that it sounds like the company is on its last legs anyway

  75. Jay*

    You know, you just KNOW, that, within a month of this, they are going to announce the “completely unrelated” fact that the company has once again set record profits. And senior management will be rewarded for “all their hard work” with four star executive “retreats”, massive retention bonuses, and stock options by the dumptruck load. You know, to “preserve their most valuable talent”. Naturally, of course, there is no money for raises for regular employees. Times are hard. We’re barely scrapping by. Don’t be so selfish. Nobody wants to work anymore!

  76. Zarniwoop*

    I’m surprised Alison didn’t say “Your employer sucks and isn’t going to change. It’s time to look for another job. I’m sorry.”

  77. Decent human being*

    I didn’t even know that paycuts were even a thing outside of paycuts made to avoid layoffs during a recession. If someone isn’t meeting performance standards, you fire them. I’ve never heard of cutting their pay instead. (I have heard of a lack of raises or lack of bonuses. That one is a tale as old as time.)

    1. TootsNYC*

      a pay cut is what you do when you want to encourage people to leave so you don’t have to go through the work of firing them for nonperformance, or the expense of laying them off.

      It’s “slow firing.”

  78. Inkognyto*

    These are not leaders.

    A leader would look for actual solutions to solve their problems.

    Unless they think a ruined rep will be easy to recover from.

    This isn’t the 1990’s anymore where it was word of mouth to get out how bad leadership is. Social media and other platforms of network exists where when someone says “I have an interview for this company,” and the reply is “Nooo never work for these assholes”

  79. Sagegreengrrl*

    Wow, we need an update on this asap and everyone might as well just walk out now if they aren’t going to get paid!

  80. Caterpillar hunter*

    LW start job hunting and leave. Your employer has shown that they will, without discussion or notice, substantially reduce pay.

    It does not matter if you manage to convince them to keep your pay while everyone else gets a pay cut. Next week, or next month, you too could be heading for a pay cut, without notice, without a chance to address the issue.

    I can see their point – the morale issues would be huge. Your coworkers would likely resent you when they found out (and they would find out). They would be even more angry at the company because they would feel they were being treated unequally and unfairly. Why should you get paid and not then? You say the errors are due to the company, so why do they get all the blame?

    I really hope staff leave and the company is significantly harmed by this decision. I hope those who decided this plan lose their jobs, and get experience some financial hardship.

    FWIW I voted in favour of losing income during COVID to minimise job losses (job losses won out in the vote). So there are times when cutting pay is necessary for a business. But this isn’t the way you do it.

  81. Ozzac*

    “Thank you, our last conversation was the push I needed to search for a new job. Best luck in keeping people overworked and underpayed.”
    As an aside this company is just trying to cut expenses, expect things to go downhill from here.

  82. Boof*

    Run lw!
    Also, it sounds like you have little to lose by refusing to do all the extra work, effective immediately. Tell your team to do it too. Tell bosses “I can do X, Y, or Z but I cannot do all 3. I will do X unless you tell me there is a different priority”. Everyone stop working overtime, effective immediately. Focus on “not making mistakes” and let the overwork pile up – tell the bosses clearly. (and I do wish you could ask your bosses if they are taking a salary cut for the team, too – SO TEMPTING)

  83. katkat*

    The sad thing is, this is exactly what is going in the hospitality business, where tips are a Major part of your compensation. Its not to make you perform exceptionally well, but to punish you for mistakes when you are not… and nobody bats an etelid.

    OP, you know by now: run!

    1. Onward*

      I wouldn’t say that nobody bats an eyelid. There’s a lot of debate around it and argument that people should be paid a living wage and shouldn’t depend on tips (especially now that consumers are being asked to tip everywhere they go). Now, whether it will go anywhere or not….

  84. AnonAnon*

    Tell your boss you need a religious accommodation and give this job up for Lent.

    I can’t imagine they honestly think everyone is going to say “OK” and put their nose to the grindstone and work harder/better. This is where rage-applying comes in.
    Say you need to reduce your hours based on your new pay.

  85. AnonNurse*

    Oh wow. WOW. This is 100% not okay. It may be legal but it’s a HORRIBLE way to do business. It’s not okay to do to people who have made mistakes due to the situation but it’s especially egregious to attempt to do this to a high performer for the sake of being “fair”. I would be polite and professional but I would say something extremely close to what Alison has stated. I would make it abundantly clear that they result will be demoralized and disengaged team members who will look for opportunities at other companies if this happens, including myself. Good luck with your situation and I really hope to read an update in the coming months that you’ve moved on from this position!

  86. AnonNurse*

    Oh wow. WOW. This is 100% not okay. It may be legal but it’s a HORRIBLE way to do business. It’s not okay to do to people who have made mistakes due to the situation but it’s especially egregious to attempt to do this to a high performer for the sake of being “fair”. I would be polite and professional but I would say something extremely close to what Alison has stated. I would make it abundantly clear that they result will be demoralized and disengaged team members who will look for opportunities at other companies if this happens, including myself. Good luck with your situation and I really hope to read an update in the coming months that you’ve moved on from this position!

    Oh and just to give them a dose of “well, isn’t this the consequences of my actions coming back to get me”, I would stop doing anything extra. No more overtime, no more taking on extra assignments or duties then my fellow team members, and definitely no helping leaders with their work. My paycheck would definitely say “you don’t get paid enough to do your job, his job, and their jobs” and I would be leaving the minute the clock turned over. But that may just be me.

    1. TootsNYC*

      and if being overworked and rushing is creating errors, OP’s team needs to slow down and reduce the amount of work they do so they can be careful. Errors matter in a monetary way, so it’s time to prioritize eliminating them.

      1. AnonNurse*

        Completely agree! I would take as long as needed to make sure no errors were made and every thing was being done the right way every time. If that resulted in less output, then so be it. At least they couldn’t complain about errors any longer!

  87. Me80*

    This reminds me of a flag I saw in a Pirate museum, “The bearings will continue until morale is improved.”


    These people are not worthy of your work.

  88. Kel*

    I’m sorry, are you working on building the Death Star 2 for the Empire??? This is wildly disgusting!!

Comments are closed.