Can an employee be terminated for insubordination if employer is questioned about pay rate?

My husband was asked to step up from a dishwasher to a prep cook and was getting paid $15/hour as a prep cook. After about 3 weeks or so and without prior notification, the employer reduced his rate to $14.00. When he questioned what his correct rate of pay was on several occasions, they gave him job description forms with pay ranges and a transfer form they filled out giving him the option to go back to being a dishwasher. Then when he continued to question the pay change with no clarification, the terminated him on grounds of insubordination. Is that legal?

Asked on December 28, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Hawaii

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Unless your husband had a written employment contract or was subject to a union agreement, his employer could change his pay rate "at will". That having been said, his rate of pay could only be changed for hours to be worked going forward, not for hours that he already put in. In other words, a pay reduction cannot be retroactive. Accordingly, so long as this reduction was not due to some form of legaly actionable discrimination it was legal. Further, so was his termination. The fact is that a worker can be fired for any reason or no reason at all, with or without notice.

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Unless your husband had a written employment contract or was subject to a union agreement, his employer could change his pay rate "at will". That having been said, his rate of pay could only be changed for hours to be worked going forward, not for hours that he already put in. In other words, a pay reduction cannot be retroactive. Accordingly, so long as this reduction was not due to some form of legaly actionable discrimination it was legal. Further, so was his termination. The fact is that a worker can be fired for any reason or no reason at all, with or without notice.


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