Wild West: Work negotiations in the time of COVID
September 2, 2020 7:22 AM   Subscribe

How to best negotiate "We are in survival mode. Starting now, we will all have a reduced salary of X% across the board." Recently started a job and this is not what I signed up for (salary reduction plus COVID-related stuff that is beyond their control). This is making me reconsider the job. I would like suggestions/ideas for how to negotiate effectively and not sound like an inconsiderate jerk.

Within the last few months, I started a new job. The job is okay and has met some of my criteria (the salary is much lower than what I've been paid in the past, but it met other criteria that I wanted and I agreed to it. The job also fell in my lap, so ...).

My employer recently announced that due to financial strain during COVID, there needs to be a reduction in salary for all of us across the board. This has made me reconsider the job and it might be better to try to negotiate vs look for yet another job. The main things that got me to this point:
    • When I started, we were all work for home due to state and city-related covid restrictions.
    • We are now required to work in the office two days a week and the remaining time from home is fine
    • I take public transportation and it is a long commute. I was fine with this upon accepting the job, but with COVID - the city is not following regulations (i.e., 3 feet between people) and many people do not wear masks), so I've been taking lyfts for the other days we need to work in office. This has eaten what I would save with a job, but I did not share this with my employer and was fine okay with this compromise (my risk assessment, I decided to pay for it, whatever).
    • We were recently told that there would be a decrease in salary, which ... would eat up any surplus in my salary (that I was using for lyfts, but I still don't feel safe, etc., and would want to take lyfts if we still need to work in the office).
    • In my industry, there are lots of remote jobs that pay market rate., more vacation, etc. I had intended to stay at this job a few years (like I said, it met my criteria), but I am reconsidering.
    • I *might* reconsider if we could work more often from home
I fully recognize my boss (the owner of the company) is trying their best to save the company and still have everyone work, etc. I realize I am fortunate to have a job while lots of people are unemployed.

One coworker has officially (and at least a few others unofficially) are working 100% from home. I think this is probably inappropriate to bring up in any discussion(although I did think of suggesting this compromise for all of us - working from home since it might be perceived as unfair, etc.)

What am I asking? A suggested script or points in how to negotiate this. My goal is just making this okay for the next few months, which would mean working for home with a reduction in salary.

If that doesn't happen, I'm fine with going wild west and working more often from home (I won't state that) and just looking for a remote job and calling it a day.

In general (workwise at least), I've been good at asking and often getting what I need or would like from an employer, negotiating salary, etc., but I find myself in an unknown predicament and hence the request for guidance and suggestions.

tl;dr It really would be preferable to negotiate, though, and not go through a new job search/job/etc again and right now. I would like suggestions as to what to say / not to say / that would ideally be effective yet compassionate?

If you have been in a similar situation, what did you do and are there things I should be aware of while having such a discussion?
posted by wonder twin powers activate form of a sock puppet to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Hi Boss, I understand that Company is in a tough spot right now and I appreciate that this must be immensely stressful for you. I can absorb the pay cut but not the paycut and the cost of the commute, so the trade off for me would have to be full time work from home."
posted by DarlingBri at 7:48 AM on September 2, 2020 [27 favorites]

Good script! Also consider checking AskAManager for various scripts or ask directly about strategies. Good luck, you shouldn't have to just suck this up given how drastically things have changed for you as well as the business.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:55 AM on September 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Everyone took a pay cut, but it affects the workers more than the owner. A pay cut across the board is a optics tactic that harms you and other workers much more than it harms your boss, and he knows it. If he were interested in saving his company and not screwing his workers, he would have taken a 100% pay cut himself and kept you workers on your salaries. So while you see him as "trying his best to save the company," know that he is doing it at your expense much more than his.

It's worth it to try DarlingBri's script above, I couldn't have made a better one, but your boss is banking on you thinking "I'm lucky to have a job at all, I'll just suck this up." If you and your coworkers leave, he will re-hire people at that lower starting salary without mention of the pay cut, and continue to pay them below the market rate for their entire tenure. No one is irreplacable. How employers behave during this COVID pandemic is going to be a candidate's interview question forever: How were employees treated? Did you cut their salaries? Did you demand that they commute into an office in unsafe conditions when their jobs could have been done from home?

If I were in your shoes, I would be looking for a new job now. I'm sorry. At least when you're asked why you're looking for a new job, you can say, "My employer insisted I come into the office despite the obvious safety risks when I could clearly do the job from home, and I'm not willing to risk my health for someone else's preference that goes against state safety guidelines."
posted by juniperesque at 8:15 AM on September 2, 2020 [18 favorites]

Negotiate a recoup of missed salary when the restrictions are lifted/company is back to normal. At the end of the period, 6 months, a year, more, you will want your take-home to be the same as it would have been had you been getting your normal salary all along. He gets the cash flow he needs, for now, and then it's on him to make the numbers after that.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:17 AM on September 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

All the above suggestions are great (HR manager functionary here). OHenryPacey’s suggestion might be a non-starter though, if you are employee at will. Promising more compensation in the future can be assumed as creating a contract. If things get worse and you are laid off in three months, you might sue. Your position is that you are holding up your end of the bargain (willing to continue work) and they are not (keeping you on until that 6month reward).

If you were not yet hired this would be a good time to walk away or negotiate sharing another company’s offer as your lowest possible salary.

However, even though some of those alternative offers are still fresh on your mind, I would NOT say anything about better offers at other places.

If I have a new employee, very little seniority, who is complaining about a better offer elsewhere, I’ll put them to the top of a lay-off list. I know they have a softer landing somewhere else.
posted by sol at 10:14 AM on September 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

I, too, think DarlingBri's script is good, and I'd try that. I think OHenryPacey’s suggestion is... I mean, it's good, and I've heard of companies making that offer, but I'm super-skeptical any will deliver on it. If this company is generally good to their people and generally keeps their word, ok, sure, could work out. But I'm skeptical. (It's reminding me of when, in the early 2000s, struggling dot-coms starting cutting salary in lieu of stock. On paper it sounded fine, but most of those companies failed and that stock ended up being useless.)

All that being said, I strongly suggest you also start looking for a new job. I know it sucks to start a job search so soon after taking a new one. But your company is circling the drain. The next step is layoffs -- or worse, just an outright shuttering. You won't get any warning when that happens. You need to be ready.

At the very least, keep your resume very up-to-date, brush off your references, and be prepared when that surprise Friday meeting with HR shows up on your calendar. But I seriously suggest you start looking for a more stable company right now.
posted by jacobian at 4:13 PM on September 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

If it was me, my order of preference would be:

1) Get another job, specifically one at a company that is not feeling or likely to feel the pain.

In my industry, there are lots of remote jobs that pay market rate., more vacation, etc. I had intended to stay at this job a few years (like I said, it met my criteria), but I am reconsidering.

Is that true in general or is it true now as well? If this company is now going down the drain, you'll need to move on anyway but there's little point moving onto another company which is equally troubled.

2) If you think the company will survive and it is appropriate for your industry and seniority, you could ask for equity. That way you would participate in any future upside.

3) Negotiate all the non-cash things.

I would like suggestions as to what to say / not to say / that would ideally be effective yet compassionate?

I think DarlingBri's idea is the best one.
posted by atrazine at 1:13 AM on September 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

There are so many little details here that pique my interest. For example, why is he requiring staff to come in two days a week if this is a job that can be done remotely? Why are some people able to ignore the policy if it's so important that you're there in person? It sounds a bit to me like he's trying hard to keep the wheels from flying off this business, which means two things for you: 1) he will probably give you whatever you want in order to keep you, as long as you ask for things he can give you; 2) he may not be able to keep the wheels on this thing no matter what, so you should probably start looking for other jobs.

Working from home is DEFINITELY something he could and should be giving you. As others have said, DarlingBri has a great simple script for negotiating 100% work-from-home in exchange for the paycut.

But juniperesque is right that your boss is not really doing everything to keep you on and that an across the board percentage salary cut is an optics technique to keep as many of you in place as he can without making cuts that hurt him. That's part of why I say that he may be struggling more than he's telling you -- % payroll cuts are also a strategy for trying to keep as many staff members on as possible in situations where you are already understaffed for the amount of work/production you're trying to do.

So, you may be more valuable to him than you're aware and you could possibly negotiate more things that are a smaller cost to him than losing/replacing you. Those things might be more vacation days, a higher percentage of retirement match (if they do that -- those contributions cost less than giving you payroll $) -- there are probably some other benefits and perks you could ask for if you wanted to do some research about low-cost things.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 11:13 AM on September 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

First, thank you to every single person who answered (collectively, it helped me think through my situation and ultimately, how to prepare). For an update for those who are interested: I used DarlingBri's few sentence script. Juniperesque and Colonel_Chappy's answers helped give me a bit of courage to go through with the conversation and script, and sol's answer was also helpful for what NOT to say.

So what happened as a result of this? I now get to work from home every single day of the week. I am going to stay put job-wise for the moment but do intend to consider other options. At a minimum, I'll be repolishing my CV, but I don't want to jump ship this instant.

Thank you, everyone!
posted by wonder twin powers activate form of a sock puppet at 7:50 PM on September 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

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