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TL;DR

My COO sent me a contract that would amend an existing employment term (salary). I raised concerns regarding the terms of the contact. COO explicitly told me

you don't need to put it in writing.

With respect to New York State / New York City employment or contact law, is it strictly legal to suggest or instruct employees not to put contract concerns in writing?

Background

Yesterday my CEO announced via email that they made the decision to cut salaries. My COO responded to that email to everyone individually asking them to sign an attached document by EOD the following day. The attached document was a contract that would reduce my salary by 20% with no other changes to other existing employment terms (e.g. my employment contract). The next day the COO and I had a call discussing the email and attached document. In that call I expressed concerns regarding the terms of the contract. When the COO expressed that they would bring it up w/ the CEO I said that I'd put my concerns in writing. In response to that the COO said

you don't need to put it in writing.

Obviously this is a red flag. At best the COO suggested to not document the concern. AT worst it was an implied instruction to not document the concern. Additionally, I was explicitly raising concerns over the terms of a proposed contract that would change my existing employment contract.

Errata

  1. I'm employed in New York City. So New York City, New York State, and United States law would apply here.

  2. My employment is not unionized

Question

With respect to United States / New York State / New York City employment or contract law, is it strictly legal to suggest employees not to put contract concerns in writing?

Answers/Responses to comments

(Creating this ahead of time in case there is any more explanations or details required)

Put it in writing

(I'm answering this pre-emptively) Immediately after the call I did put my concerns in writing.

2

is it strictly legal to suggest or instruct employees not to put contract concerns in writing?

Only on the surface, or by itself. The COO's direction has the appearance of lawful way of handling objections when negotiating generally any contract. However, in the employment context you describe, the COO's direction seems ultimately pursuant to conduct which is sanctioned in section § 198-B of NY Labor Law:

Whenever any employee who is engaged to perform labor shall be promised an agreed rate of wages for his or her services, [...] it shall be unlawful for [the employer] to request, demand, or receive, either before or after such employee is engaged, a return [...] or other thing of value, upon the statement, representation, or understanding that failure to comply with such request or demand will prevent such employee from procuring or retaining employment.

(brackets and emphasis added)

Your description does not reflect that the employer has expressed to you the consequences for failing to cooperate in the way the employer intends. But you are in a better position than us to assess whether the employer has in any form made such representation(s) in trying to dissuade you from defending your points. If an adverse employment action occurs, the test would have to be whether the employer violated the substance --or perhaps the legislative intent-- of the aforementioned statute.

Putting your concerns in writing is in fact the best decision for evidentiary purposes, regardless of the import of the COO's direction (I'm assuming that by "put[ting] [your] concerns in writing" you mean you provably submitted them to the employer). By contrast, your compliance with the COO's direction would afford the employer the opportunity to eventually deny --and safely perjure during sworn testimony-- that you raised any concerns. Perjury goes unpunished more often than people imagine, whereas at that point your ability to prove wrongful/retaliatory termination might be hindered for having followed the COO's direction.

3

The statement "you don't need to put it in writing" is not an instruction, and should not be interpreted as on in lieu of other evidence (e.g. the follow-up question "you don't want to get fired, do you?"). It is, at best, a recognition that your concerns have already been noted (and at worst, a ham-handed threat). In the context of an at-will non-union position, it is legal for a boss to directly demand "take it or leave it, no back-talk allowed". The reduction in salary can't go below the statutory minimum, or otherwise circumvent any laws, but assuming that the new salary is per se legal, they can demand that you accept it and not argue.

If this were a government position, there is a potential (but not guaranteed) First Amendment issue.

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