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Unfortunately, employers are free to change pay structure at any time upon notice to the employee. The only restriction is that the new pay structure must comply with the laws governing minimum wage and overtime.
It's not inherently illegal to pay an employee "per study." It's called "piece rate" work and is very common in certain industries. What the law requires is that for each pay period, the total compensation when divided by the total number of hours worked equals or exceeds minimum wage plus any applicable overtime.
If your total wages have been equally less than this, you can file a wage claim with the Department of Labor to recover the different. However, if your wages are equal or more than minimum wage plus applicable overtime for each pay period, I'm afraid you would not typically have any further recourse under the law. Your only recourse is to attempt to negotiate something better, or to leave this employment in favor of better employment somewhere else.
I hope that you find this information helpful and am genuinely sorry if it is not what you were hoping to hear. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding the above and I will be more than happy to assist you further.
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I would hate to put it in those terms, but yes, the "deck is stacked" so to speak, against the employee in these situations. I do wish I could provide better news but I'm glad you appreciate an honest and direct answer.
Again, please feel free to let me know if you have any further concerns. If I have answered your question, I would be very grateful for a positive rating of my service (using the stars at the top of the page) so that I may receive credit for assisting you.
Very best wishes.