Is an employer cutting hours instead of firing legal?

Employers cannot cut hours to retaliate against employees. Cutting the hours of an employee should never be used as discipline or in an attempt to make an employee quit. 

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Cutting hours instead of firing

An employer cannot retaliate against a worker by reducing your number of working hours. Retaliation occurs when an employer takes action against a worker, such as firing or reducing hours or pay, because the worker engaged in a protected activity. The following situations would make it unlawful for a company to reduce a worker’s hours or pay:

  • The reduction in pay or hours is based on discrimination, such as revenge or harassment
  • An employee is protected by an employment agreement
  • A company reduces a worker’s pay to under the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour) or the California minimum wage ($13 an hour for companies of fewer than 25 employees and $14 an hour for employers with 26 or more workers)
  • A company does not pay a worker overtime (when an employee works over 8 hours a day)

Contact our workplace retaliation lawyer for free consultation to determine if cutting your hours was retaliation.

For What Reasons Do Companies Reduce Hours and Pay?

Employers may cut their employees’ hours and pay for many reasons, including the following:

  • The company decides they no longer require a full-time position
  • The company wants to increase productivity
  • The company wants to save money
  • The company aims to downsize, by getting rid of jobs or departments
  • The company may be attempting to avoid firing employees by reducing hours

Can an Employer Legally Reduce Hours and Pay?

It is illegal for employers to cut hours and pay if an employment agreement or contract exists. If an employee did not sign an employment contract, his or her employer is permitted to cut hours or pay without consequence. The employee is powerless to do anything in this scenario.

Why?

In California, most employees are employed at-will. This means that either the employee or employer can terminate the relationship at any time and for any reason. An at-will worker is also not guaranteed a certain quantity of hours. That is, unless the employee has signed a contract with their employer or union specifically regarding hours or pay.

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