Employees rely on getting a certain number of hours at work. When those hours are cut, it can be very problematic. But can you sue your employer for cutting your hours?
The short answer is: that depends. In certain situations, your employer could be following the law. In other situations, it could be illegal. Depending on the specific circumstances, you may be able to sue your employer to receive compensation for your losses.
Having the right information is key to knowing whether you may have a case against your employer. As dedicated employee rights advocates, we will also provide information on filing a lawsuit and the potential outcomes of these employment law cases.
Is It Legal for an Employer to Cut Your Hours? A Close Look
Hour cuts are a complex legal subject. Since Florida is an “at-will” work state, a fixed pay rate or a set number of hours per week is not guaranteed. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) offers certain protections for wages, including a guaranteed minimum wage, but does not include parameters for lowering an employee’s pay.
However, your employer is bound by the contract parameters if you have a legal employment contract or collective bargaining agreement that includes set pay/hours, as it is one of the primary protections.
But contracts are not the only legal protections employees have regarding hour cuts. An employer could violate the law in certain circumstances, and you may have a case.
Can an Employer Cut Your Hours for No Reason?
Business owners sometimes have to make hard decisions to stay in business. Sometimes, there are layoffs. In other situations, they may decide to cut the hours of employees.
They can legally reduce your pay through hour cuts if they notify you, which would be for the work you perform moving forward. It applies to salaried and non-salaried employees – as long as they do not violate the parameters of the FLSA or other employment laws.
Here are two examples of cutting hours for legitimate reasons:
(1) to maintain the cash flow necessary for maintaining business operations and
(2) to have the cash flow to improve safety, infrastructure, or machinery/technology related to business operations.
Here are two examples of cutting hours for illegitimate reasons:
(1) targeting only female employees for hour cuts and not male employees – this would be considered discriminatory.
(2) targeting a specific person for making a claim of sexual harassment or filing a claim for workers’ compensation – this could be considered a retaliatory action.
So, “Can an employer cut your hours for no reason?” An employer can only cut your hours for a legitimate reason, and they are not violating your employee rights under federal or state law.
Factors Influencing Employers’ Decision to Cut Hours
Many factors could come into play when an employer decides to cut hours. For example, a new competitor in the industry may be taking a larger market share, reducing your company sales, and potentially placing the business in peril. An employer may temporarily cut hours to regroup and strategize the best operational path moving forward.
Another reason could be difficulties with a company’s supply chain in acquiring materials needed to produce their products, a common global issue at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. If they cannot get the consistent supplies they need to, for example, manufacture a car, then they either may decide to conduct layoffs or cut employees’ hours.
It is not uncommon for a business to struggle in its sales and revenue generation. If they are expecting certain profits and are not getting them over time, an employer may decide to cut employees’ hours.
Navigating the Gray Areas: The Ambiguities of Employment Law
There are gray areas in employment law surrounding hour cuts that can be tough to navigate. For example, you were transferred to another position in your company, and your hours were cut. Could this be a straightforward business decision, or could it be retaliation? That would depend on the situation.
Another gray area that may arise is when a particular department of an organization is targeted for hour cuts. If everyone in that department is under 30 except for you (you are 49), and your boss only gives you a 30% reduction in your hours, could this be age discrimination? Potentially.
Consulting with an attorney can help you get clarity on whether or not you may have a case.
When Hour Cuts Cross the Line
When employers cross the line, the answer to the question, “Can you sue your employer for cutting your hours?” is yes.
Here are situations when it is illegal:
It is illegal when a wage reduction is applied to hours after they were worked. The company needs to inform you ahead of time of a wage reduction. You have a right to fair notice and should not be faced with unexpected reductions.
It is illegal when your hours are cut because you are in a protected class. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
It is illegal when you have an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement that details an agreed-upon rate for a specific period of time.
It is illegal to cut hours as an act of retaliation, which could be for varying types of actions, including reporting sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions, and illegal behavior by the employer or its representatives, among other reasons.
Discrimination and Retaliation: When the Law Steps In
Federal and state law protects employees from discrimination and retaliation. As mentioned above, Title VII covers protected classes from discriminatory actions. The other primary law used in discrimination cases is the Florida Civil Rights Act. The American Disability Act (ADA) is also used when a person with a disability is targeted for an hour’s court because of that disability. Other federal laws can be utilized, depending on the particular discriminatory action.
Backed by these laws, employees can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that administers employment laws.
Multiple laws cover retaliation, including:
- Title VII
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
- Whistleblower laws enforced by OSHA and other whistleblower protections
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)
- The Dodd-Frank Act
- False Claims Act
From getting targeted for a cut in hours due to taking time off for having a baby to being retaliated against for reporting financial crimes, the law protects employees who have illegally had their hours cut — and provides a legal framework for holding employers accountable for their unlawful action.
How to Recognize Unlawful Conduct by Employers
The first step to recognizing unlawful conduct is being informed of your employee rights. The next is to be alert and observant of actions or conversations outside normal working norms or business operations. Any confrontational scenes considered harassment or abuse should be taken seriously. Any company emails, conversations at work, displayed photos, or other shared information that is offensive or abusive against classes protected by Title VII should also be taken seriously.
“Shortcuts” in safety or requests to perform suspicious duties are red flags too. Recognizing unlawful conduct boils down to being educated and not complacent in the workplace.
The Necessity of Documenting Everything
Keeping detailed records when dealing with hour cuts is critical to building a strong case against your employer. Maintain copies of your schedules, performance reviews, pay stubs, position changes, or other HR documentation, including company policies and handbooks. If any incidents occur, such as harassment, document details of what happened and where, when it happened, and any witnesses to the incidents.
Related emails, memos, voicemails, text messages, videos, or other types of media or communications should also be saved.
Any factual documentation you can obtain that you believe would be relevant to a lawsuit regarding cutting your hours is important and can increase your ability to obtain a successful outcome.
How to Sue Your Employer for Hour Cuts
If your employee rights have been violated due to unlawful hour cuts, you have rights that should be protected. Employers should not get away with illegal actions that affect the lives and livelihoods of their employees. While not all instances of cutting hours amount to illegal activity, some do.
Your circumstances could be eligible for a lawsuit to seek damages due to your losses.
Understanding Your Grounds for a Lawsuit
The potential grounds for a lawsuit when an employee’s hours are cut will depend on your situation.
Did you have your wages reduced from the hours you already worked? Were you and other employees of a certain race targeted for cutting hours while other employees of other races were not? Did an employer cut your hours after you secured an employment contract that detailed other parameters?
These areas would be potential grounds for a lawsuit but are not comprehensive. If you believe you may be the subject of an illegal cut in your hours, it is advised to consult with an employee rights lawyer.
Filing a Lawsuit: The Step-by-Sep Process
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to file a lawsuit over hour cuts:
- Consult with an employment law attorney about whether you have grounds for a case
- Choose an attorney to handle your hour cuts lawsuit
- Compile and organize evidence of illegal hour cuts
- Gather any relevant witness testimony from any coworkers that are willing to corroborate your claim
- File a formal complaint with the EEOC
- Attend subsequent meetings and mediation sessions
The Potential Outcomes: What to Expect
Various possible outcomes can occur for a lawsuit over hour cuts. You may recoup damages due to lost wages related to illegitimate reasons for the cuts, which would apply to salaried and wage/hour employees. Damages may include any funds related to bonuses or benefits as well.
Employers may be ordered to change company policies, pay fines, and deal with other penalties.
Depending on the case, additional damages may be appropriate, which occurs in lawsuits involving harassment and discrimination, among other cases. In cases of retaliation in which an employee was fired or demoted, a potential outcome could be for that person to get their previous job reinstated.
Each case is different. Some cases may involve many people, leading to a class action lawsuit. It is important to know that federal and state laws protect employees from illegal actions by their employers, including illegal hour cuts and other areas of employee rights.
Empowering Employees in the Face of Hour Cuts
When you are facing hour cuts, it not only affects financial stability and potentially your career, but it also affects the lives of your family. Employees have the right to justice when employers violate the law. Under your legal rights, you may be entitled to significant compensation.
Understanding the legal implications of hour cuts can make a big difference in your future. If you have been wondering, “Can you sue your employer for cutting your hours?” take action today.
Please Note: At the time this article was written, the information contained within it was current based on the prevailing law at the time. Laws and precedents are subject to change, so this information may not be up to date. Always speak with a law firm regarding any legal situation to get the most current information available.