Advice Columns

Miss Manners: Stand firm, politely, on rejecting pay cut proposal

Q: I have been working part time for a family taking care of their elderly mother, who is very sweet. The person in charge of my employment — the lady’s daughter, who lives far away — has sent me an email saying that the family is under financial strain and needs to reduce the hours that I work.

Here is where manners come in: Was it appropriate that my employer offered me the “chance” to continue working my normal schedule but to be paid as if I were working one-third the hours, with the difference to be made up “when the house sells”?

How should one respond to such an email? (I am afraid that I may have been rude by answering that I was not able to lend money to the family. She seemed shocked at this.)

I asked her when her mother would be moving out of the house, and her daughter answered that the house would be sold when the mother dies! Her daughter must be either very pessimistic or very optimistic, I’m not sure which.

Miss Manners, I am afraid that over the years, many people have noticed that I am kind-hearted and have responded accordingly. Needless to say, I am looking for another job.

A: Taking advantage of one’s employees is always objectionable. And it is more so, not less, when the work is of an intimate nature, because it overlaps with services rendered on a part-time basis by friends or family: teaching, babysitting or, in your case, looking after an elderly parent.

Whether your employer realized she was doing it or not — whether her shock was genuine or feigned — is immaterial. The correct response is to re-establish the professional nature of the relationship, explaining that you understand if the family can no longer afford your services but that your rates are your rates.

Miss Manners believes in your giving free rein to your kind heart in looking after your clients. But for business dealings, polite professionalism should prevail.

Q: One of my sisters, who is big into the online genealogy/ancestry stuff, gave all of her immediate family members DNA test kits for Christmas. She must have convinced herself that we were interested in her personal hobby.

I told her that I think skydiving (not a good example) is great, and I would congratulate anyone who wanted to do it. However, I would never want to jump out of an airplane.

She was hurt that I wasn’t thrilled. I told her that because I love her, I will take the test with the understanding that this is her present, not mine. I think it’s a rude gift to receive for Christmas. What are your thoughts?

A: A gracious gift, as you say, consults the interests of the recipient more than those of the giver.

But a gracious recipient does not argue with the gift-giver, particularly when that person is a close family member. Miss Manners trusts that will be so after, as well as before, you put this gift to the test.

Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.