A reader writes:
I am my boss' only employee and he cut my hours to 20/week a few weeks ago. I was surprised, to say the least. I thought he did it because he didn't want me there anymore so I asked him if that was the reason. He said it was solely because of money, so I have continued working my regular hours and get paid for only 20. I have been with him for 3 years and he has been good to me. I know business has been slow and that he has kids in college.
However I can't help but be a wee bit paranoid that he will axe me for someone new and cheaper (and make me train her on my way out). People always say bosses cut your hours in an attempt to get rid of you. Is it just moronic to think that he'd actually tell me if he was going to get rid of me? If he does, I'll really be screwed - if I only worked the 20 hours a week it'd be easier to find a new job, but I've kept my regular hours helping him dig out of this hole. He just got a $100,000.00 equity line on the office - I don't know if that means anything.
Would I have any recourse if he does leave me high and dry?
You need more information.
Some people may find this naive, but I'm a big proponent of just being honest about what you're wondering about and simply asking him. In order to make good decisions, you need to find out more about what he's thinking -- for instance, does he foresee the cut in your hours being temporary, or is it for the foreseeable future? Is it an interim step that might eventually lead to needing to eliminate your position altogether? Is he offering you 20 hours because he feels he needs to offer you something, but he'd really prefer not to have any staff at all right now? What kind of commitment, if any, is he realistically able to make to you right now? These are the kinds of questions you need to know the answers to.
And when you have this conversation, let your three years of working with this guy inform your thinking too. Is he a generally ethical and open guy? Or have you seen him break his word, deceive others, or trample over someone else to protect himself? Of course, even if you know him to be an upstanding person, keep in mind that financial circumstances beyond his control may cancel out his best intentions -- so you should always have a safety net ready, no matter what.
Also, if you are going to work twice the hours he's paying you for out of loyalty, you really should protect yourself. For instance, tell him that you understand the position he's in right now, that you feel loyal to him and want to help, and that you'd be willing to continue to work full-time with a half-time salary if he's able to offer you an employment contract locking in work for you for __ months. (You fill in the blank.) What you don't want is to work half your hours for free out a sense of a loyalty and a feeling that you're both in it together, only to find yourself let go with no warning at some point down the road (in which case, without a contract, you would indeed be left without recourse). So by all means, make the offer if you think he's earned it, but protect yourself too.