Don't Bargain-Basement Yourself

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In today's job market, you might be tempted to offer to work for free or at a reduced salary during a trial period to prove yourself to an employer. Don't do it, says consultant Edward Navis of Full Spectrum HR in Little Falls, N.J. You'll simply devalue yourself and set the company up for a pay discrimination suit, he says.

"From a marketing perspective, people look at free things as having no value," Navis says. "And even if they say yes to reduced pay, they may not see you as worth more at the end of the trial period."

Regardless of the economy, companies have to stick to the standard of equal pay for equal work and equal qualifications. If you're a member of a federally or state-protected class based on your disability, race, religion, gender, etc., and the company lets you work for free, or at a reduced rate, you could later file a pay-discrimination case against the employer.

The same theory applies when companies do layoffs and re-hires. "A recent court decision found in favor of a 60-year-old chief financial officer facing a job loss because of tough financial times," Navis says. "He offered to take a steep pay cut, bringing his salary down to $60,000 annually. His offer was rejected, but he later found out that his replacement, much younger than he, was earning more than that. He filed an age discrimination claim, and things aren't looking too good for the employer right now."