Can my employer pay me less than agreed without notifying me first?

My pay structure is such that I am paid a different rate depending on the type of work I perform essentially, I am paid how a sub-contractor would be paid but I am an actual employee of the company that pays me. Recently, I received a check where I was paid less than my usual rate for the work I performed during that pay period. I asked my managers for an explanation but never received a clear answer other than,

Asked on May 20, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Massachusetts


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

No, you cannot be paid be less without notice of the change (though you have no right to refuse the reduction; your only right would be to quit). This comes from basic principles of contract law, not a specific statute: you work according to an agreement, even if an oral (that is, unwritten) one that you will be paid a certain amount for your work. Your employer cannot retroactively alter that for work already done: if you did the work under an agreement to be paid $X, they cannot instead pay you $Y. Doing so would be breach of the agreement under which you did the work.
However, the first check provided notice to you of the reduction: once you received the 1st check, you knew they were reducing your rate. You nonetheless chose to keep working: therefore, by continuing to work, you agreed or consented to the lower pay for the following checks. (You can agree to a contract without there ever being a formal discussion: here, you were offered a certain new rate of pay, which you saw once you saw the first reduced check; you accepted it by continuing to work.) Therefore, it is only the 1st pay check that represented an illegal reduction in your pay.
You could try contacting the state department of labor to file a complaint for that reduction--they sometimes help with pay disputes. Otherwise, you could sue, such as in small claims court, for the difference in pay, if you think it worthwhile. But again, by continuing to work for the lesser pay, you are accepting it, and cannot legally complain about the ongoing reduction.

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