Can Employers Change Employee Responsibilities?

Employment Law | January 31, 2023

When it comes to changing the responsibilities of an employee, it is crucial to understand what is permissible and what is not. Knowing if employers can change employee responsibilities is the first step in determining if a change is acceptable or grounds for constructive dismissal. Whether you are an employee, who is being asked to assume new duties, or an employer who is hoping to have a member of your staff cover new responsibilities, it is important to have all the facts before you agree to anything or attempt to make changes. That is why the employment lawyers at Linley Welwood have compiled some information to help employers and employees understand what can and cannot be changed in an employee’s employment contract.

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Changes to Employee Responsibilities

In most situations, a change of responsibility must be agreed to by the employee in order for it to be seen as part of their employment contract. If a change to a specific responsibility could be seen as consistent with the employee’s overall position and expected duties, that change is often permissible. While flexibility can be expected in some circumstances, there is often a limit to how flexible an employee needs to be before changes to their position qualify them for constructive dismissal. Some employment contracts include language that denotes how flexible a position is, so it is important to inspect that language when taking on new employment. For example, some contracts state that an employer has the right to change the responsibilities of a given role at any time without notice, so it is important to understand the terms of the contract before signing it and carefully review your employment contract, if one is applicable.

What is Constructive Dismissal?

An employee’s job description will detail what they should be able to expect out of their position throughout a typical day or week. The job description for a position is a part of that employee’s contract of employment, and changes to that contract need to be agreed to by both parties. Any fundamental unilateral change of an employee’s responsibilities by the employer that the employee does not agree to can be viewed as constructive dismissal. Constructive dismissal is most commonly seen in a drastic change of responsibility or day-to-day activity, a change in work location, or a change in hours that the employee had no right to expect based on their job description.

What to do if Your Responsibilities are Changed

If an employer changes your responsibilities beyond what can be reasonably expected within your employment contract, you can:

  • Accept the changes as they are;
  • Renegotiate your employment contract; or
  • View your position as terminated.

If you choose to see your employment as terminated, this may qualify as a constructive dismissal and you may be entitled to seek payment in lieu of notice. To determine eligibility for constructive dismissal, it is strongly recommended to seek counsel from a legal professional.

To learn more about employee responsibilities or to speak with one of our employment lawyers, get in touch with the team at Linley Welwood. We can be reached through our online contact form and will be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding our services or your situation.

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