HR Headaches: Can My Employer Change My Job Role Without My Consent?

September 7, 2023・7 mins read
HR Headaches: Can My Employer Change My Job Role Without My Consent?

For many bosses, adding, deleting or changing job duties for staff members is common practice. As market conditions shift, so do priorities for most businesses. If there’s a fundamental change in job duties, employees may be unhappy with new tasks and responsibilities. The challenge will be to make any necessary changes effectively, especially if they involve a change in job description without change in pay. And the question for dissatisfied employees becomes, “Can my employer force me to change roles?”

The answer? Technically speaking: No. Whether or not a job description changed after hire, no one can force another to stay in a job they don’t want.

But practically speaking, as a general rule, if there is no specific employment contract or collective bargaining agreement, employers are free to change job duties at their discretion. Most job descriptions include an “additional duties and responsibilities as assigned” line. This allows businesses the leeway to add to, change or remove tasks and duties as needed. Sometimes this represents a fairly significant change to job description details. Conversely, for employees who have a detailed employment agreement, or for union workers under contract, any shift would need to be negotiated. For the remainder of staff, changes are allowed under federal and state law.

The Boss Wants to Change My Position. Why Is This Necessary?

In many cases, changes to an employee’s duties evolve rather than make a sudden shift. As conditions change in the workplace, employees are taking on more responsibility as needed. Some tasks that were routinely done are being eliminated. These informal changes often go unnoticed until it’s time to rewrite the employee’s job description. Then a review may show how much the work has evolved. In these instances, changing the “official” duties, by reworking the job description, creates a truer reflection of the position.

In some cases, a sudden change is necessary. Perhaps the position has evolved, the work simply isn’t there, or the employee isn’t meeting performance indicators. Employers should examine why the change is needed and if changing the duties is warranted before they discuss them with the employee.

The Employer’s Point of View

Several scenarios could prompt a change to job duties. It will be important to determine what the reason is before you speak with the worker so you can better support your reasons for the shift.

The employee is ready for more responsibility

A capable employee is good to have and good to promote to a higher level within the organization. Spotting potential and adding responsibility can be a process, beginning with small tasks to see how well they fare. If they do well, you consider adding more. If they excel at these, it may be time to formalize the arrangement.

There’s a point when the question, “Can an employer change your job description?” yields in relevance to “Can an employer add duties without compensation?”

Simply adding duties and responsibilities without fair compensation might be a short-term fix to a situation, but it will cost you in the long run. The more you add, the more staff may resent the additional duties if they’re not being paid for them. If your plan is to have them continue performing at a higher level, sit down with the staff member. Discuss how well they’ve been doing and come up with a new or existing job description that outlines the new duties. Add a bump in salary that’s commensurate with the responsibilities they’re taking on.

The work/role has changed

The situation may be that the work you hired the employee to perform simply isn’t available any more. You may have automated systems or changed services or products. The original tasks and responsibilities are no longer of use. In this scenario, changing the duties may be the only way to salvage the employee.

You’ll want to discuss the need to shift their responsibilities in order to keep them on the payroll. You may offer them the option to leave if the changes aren’t acceptable. Stress that you want to keep them onboard and you’re willing to train on the new tasks. If you underscore that you believe they can continue to be a valued employee if they’re willing to make the shift, they may be more inclined to stay.

The employee isn’t performing

In some cases the employee just isn’t up for the task. Training, coaching and mentoring have not resulted in even minimal production, much less top performance. The employee should be well aware they’re not meeting goals and expectations, but you may want to keep them in another role better suited to their capabilities.

Discuss why you’re considering the change and why you think different tasks and responsibilities will make it easier for them to perform. You’ll want to approach this employee frankly but with compassion. They may be happy to be relieved of the duties that challenge them, or they may ask for more time to grow. Work with the staff member to come up with a transition plan that meets both your needs. If you can’t, it may be time to separate from the staff member.

From the Worker’s Point of View

Let’s dive into why some employees don’t want to change their job duties.

The employee isn’t ready for more responsibility

Some workers are ambitious, others are content — and both have a place in business. Just because your boss thinks you’re ready to take on more, doesn’t mean you agree. You may be satisfied to do work you’re comfortable doing; maybe it’s work that doesn’t challenge or provide stress and obligation. Perhaps you do not want to be responsible for overseeing others or add more to your workload.

Can your employer change your job description anyway? Maybe. So when bosses suggest adding more responsibility, it will be important to be honest if you’re hesitant. You may be at a place in your life where additional stress could put you at a breaking point, but you’re happy to perform your original role indefinitely. Talk candidly to your boss about how changes will affect you professionally and personally. Let them know you’re content where you are, if you are. You can let them know you’re not looking to change companies or roles, if at all possible.

The work or role has changed

What they hired you for isn’t what you’re being asked to do. There may have been a short period at the beginning when the job description matched the role, but that’s long gone. If you’re doing work that isn’t even close to what you were hired for, you are not alone. Some speculate that a third of new hires quit their job within the first 90 days. Almost half of them quit because the work they were being asked to perform isn’t what was discussed during the hiring process.

Here are some scenarios and steps to consider:

  • If the company misrepresented the job completely, you’re probably better off jumping ship and looking for an organization that’s honest and transparent.
  • If the role you were hired for changed suddenly, due to market or other conditions, consider discussing the disparity before you start sending out resumes.
  • Are you being asked to do more? Then ask for a higher salary.
  • If you’re being asked to do less, consider asking for more responsibility.

If your manager won’t help or listen, go to HR before you start a job search. They may be as in the dark about the real responsibilities of the role as you were. If the job description they were sent to recruit with is out of date, they’ll need to know. They may be able to work with you and your manager to update it and make sure you’re being compensated fairly. You may even make it easier for the next new hire to come into the role with the real duties and responsibilities clearly outlined before they accept.

Consider What Changing Job Duties Means

While your first reaction to changes to your job duties may be to resist, consider what the changes actually mean. Are you being given more responsibility because you’re a good worker? If so, it might be time to negotiate for a promotion and a raise. If you’ve been deceived by the employer, or you’re being demoted, it might be time to consider a move.

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