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Can My Boss 'Take Back' My Raise?

Dear Stanley,

I had my review a few weeks ago and got a $2-per-hour raise. Today my boss came to my job site and told me he had "heard through the grapevine" that I was talking/bragging about my raise (which I did NOT do). He then took my raise away and won't even tell me who accused me of this lie. (Although I believe it's the husband of the woman who does payroll at my company, who would of course know how much my raise was.) Is this legal? Even if I did share that info, can you have your raise taken away on those grounds and possibly be fired for it?



Dear Abused,

It sounds illegal. If you belonged to a union, you could file a grievance, I suppose. But non-union employees -- and that includes all management and quite a few unlucky line workers these days -- have nobody to protect them from arrogant, mean, punitive buttheads who have no rule of law to follow but their own.

I'll be honest with you: I've never heard of a raise being taken away from somebody. I've seen a lot of abusive things done to people in the name of management, but this one is new to me. A $2-per-hour raise is significant in this economy. It sounds like somebody wanted to be generous to you. Then somebody else told your boss that it was too much and he had to figure out a way to get the dough back from you, so he cooked up this lame horse-hockey. It's rude. It's unfair. But worse, it shows, to me, that this sphincter would rather get the money back than keep you on as an employee. Face it, that's the message here: "I'm taking away your raise, and if you don't like it you can go F yourself." I can't think of any other way to read it.

Short of whacking this jerk over the head with a stick, there are only a couple of things you can do. First, I would request a formal meeting with him. Not one where you drop by and ask him to reconsider, but a time on his schedule for you to come in, present your case (you did NOT say any such thing!), and ask him to reconsider. Perhaps he will. Perhaps he doesn't want to be a total dickwad and lose a person who was previously perceived to be worth a hefty raise. It's worth trying. No yelling or screaming. No jumping up and down. Just a business meeting asking your boss to reconsider the wrong action he has taken against you. Use all the tools at your disposal: disappointment ... guilt ... any residual history of affection or mutual regard ... a bit of anger, even. But don't lose it.

If that doesn't work, you should move to next steps. But first you need to make a decision. Option 1 is you let it go, keep on working, do a good job, eat this indignity, and work for the next raise. This could be a test: Be a good little employee and in six months you could have it all back. That could be a better solution for you than declaring outright war. So think about it. Because if you choose Option 2, there's probably no going back. It's going to get ugly, and you should be ready for ugly.

Ready? Okay, then. Here's Option 2: First, go to Human Resources. Tell them what your boss did. Tell them you believe it to be very unfair and unreasonable. You love the job and don't want to make trouble, but you really can't take this and believe that, in the end, it may be a legal matter. See what happens. Your boss will now hate you, but at least you won't feel like a total wuss.

When nothing happens, and it most probably will not, you may have to see a labor attorney and start some kind of proceeding with the company. Maybe not a suit, maybe just a negotiation, but really ... do you want to do that?

My advice is to try to get your boss back on the train, either now or in the near future. And while you're trying to do that, go out and find another job. No, it's not easy. It may be impossible. But take your time. Look everywhere. And when you do succeed, do something nice, like leave in the middle of the day with a bunch of stuff still remaining to be done. You are being victimized by a totally inappropriate individual. Revenge is a dish best eaten cold.