Businesses evolve as industry changes and internal structures develop, so it makes sense that employee roles also transform to keep pace. The role adjustment may not necessarily come with a promotion or demotion, or even a pay rise. With this in mind, are employees obligated to accept their positional change?

Employers can direct their workers to undertake work that is appropriate to their skills, qualifications, experience and pay classification. Before doing so an employer should consider if the proposed request to undertake a different role will be of detriment to their employee. For example, will the role change result in working from a different location and as such cause difficulties for the employee? That is, will there be extra travel time or lack of public transportation to that location? Will the role change be perceived as a demotion and result in a reduction in pay? Bottom line, the role modifications need to be ‘reasonable’ and both the employer and employee need to agree to the proposed shift in responsibilities. Providing an awareness of the need for the proposed changes can see employees become advocates of the transition. And a smooth change is a good change!

The obvious risk when an organisation or position within faces change is that one’s role becomes redundant. To minimise risks during a period of adjustment organisations should identify the issues and propose solutions. Consultation with staff is a must and any changes should be documented. If change is not managed well, employees can become disenfranchised from the company as they perceive themselves to have less job security. Morale can plummet and staff turnover increase as a result.

Another aspect to consider is if an existing employment contract permits a role change. In the event there is a variation in the duties or wages of an employee, one should enquire as to what happens to the current employment contract. Has the essence of the contract been altered? If so is it now null and void? And what are the consequences of such actions? In general, where an employee experiences a change of duties, even if the change was consented to, in the eyes of the law this may be considered the termination of the existing contract and the commencement of a new contract. One must read the fine print of the existing contract to ascertain this outcome. And potentially seek legal advice. Alternatively if the role adjustment centred around work hours and not the responsibilities of the position, this change can be governed by awards or statue. Needless to say all parties should investigate thoroughly the applicable circumstances, noting any limitations to a proposed role change, and ensure any agreements made between the two are communicated in writing. Mismanaged and an employer could find themselves presented with a wrongful dismissal claim.

Naturally one should update an employee’s job description when their position in the company undergoes significant change. A methodical approach should ensure the employee understands their role change, how to perform their new duties and is supported by the organisation’s leadership group when adopting their new responsibilities.

Traditionally people are not receptive to change, particularly when it comes unexpectedly and takes them outside of their comfort zone. Yet business needs, product demand and/or development, and staff levels can justify the need for a role to be adapted or made redundant. Importantly it is good business practice to consult with employees throughout this process, particularly where major changes impact the broader workforce. When an employee understands and embraces the new direction they can successfully make their own personal transition. And when a vision is shared, organisations can achieve their desired results.

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