Receiving notification that your employer is reducing your scheduled hours can be frustrating, but there's often little you can do about it. With a few exceptions, employers can reduce your scheduled hours and even your rate of pay, but they must follow specific guidelines when doing so.
All U.S. states except Montana foster an at-will work environment. In at-will states, employers are free to modify the terms of employment at any time, and can terminate an employee at any time and for almost any reason. At-will employees, along the same lines, are free to leave a job at any time and for any reason, including no reason at all. Employers in at-will states can generally reduce your hours of work as business needs dictate.
Retroactive Changes Prohibited
The U.S. Department of Labor allows employers in at-will states to modify your scheduled hours or rate of pay, but only with advance notice and only for future time periods. Employers may not pay you for a lower number of hours than the number of hours you actually worked in a pay period. Similarly, employers may not notify you that they have reduced your rate of pay for hours you have already worked.
Because the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay salaried employees their full salary for any week in which that employee performs work, employers must handle changes for salaried employees differently. Generally, according to the Department of Labor, employers who reduce a salaried employee’s hours of work convert that employee to hourly pay. Similarly, reducing hours for an exempt employee typically causes a loss of exemption. If an employer converts a salaried employee to hourly pay, the employer must pay at least the minimum wage for all hours worked and must pay overtime pay when the employee works more than 40 hours in a week.
Though employers generally can reduce your hours, federal regulations prevent employers from doing so for certain reasons. If you have a contract with your employer, as many freelancers and professionals do, reducing your hours of work may violate the terms of your contract. Similarly, if you are a member of a union, changing your hours worked may violate your union’s collective bargaining agreement. In addition, an employer may not reduce your hours due to your age, race, gender, color, national origin, religion, disability or genetic information.