Our roles at work can change during different seasons of a company’s history — during a financial crisis, reorganization due to change of owners or leadership, introduction of new technology, or the departure of a colleague at work. But they can also come by surprise, and we lose our bearings.
Consider the worker who was hired as a client relationship manager but spends the first weeks of their job filling out forms, making reports, and doing administrative duties.
Or maybe just when you were getting the hang of your responsibilities, you are suddenly assigned more tasks or told to take on work totally outside of your original job description.
Are employers entitled to change our job responsibilities out of the blue? The answer is yes in majority of cases. How can we tell whether our rights were violated during a job modification?
Study Your State Laws and Job Contract
Many employers in every U.S. state except Montana (where employees need to have first completed an initial probationary period before they can be fired without cause) have adopted at-will policies, meaning workers are free to resign and can be terminated at any time for whatever legal reason.
An at-will policy, however, also allows employers to change the work duties, working hours, job title, and salary of the employee without notice or cause.
The law presumes that employees work at will even if their employers do not have an at-will policy unless they were asked to sign contracts that say otherwise.
The contract is a legal agreement that both employee and employer should respect while it is in effect. The terms in that contract — your specific job duties, position, employment duration, salary, and bonuses — can’t be changed unless both parties negotiate a new contract.
Also, contracts secured through worker unions are explicit about the duties for each position. Under collective bargaining agreements, an employee’s duties can only change if they give their consent.
Best Practice: Agreement Needed Prior to Changes
Under human resource best practices, employers must first notify employees about any changes to their job role before they are implemented. Clarifying what the new role is all about sustains employee morale and employee productivity.
Employees can agree verbally or in writing — through the signing of a letter or new employment contract — after being informed and consulted about the role modification. The job descriptions will have to be revised in the process.
However, sometimes the expected notification doesn’t happen immediately. So, what can you do? Try the following tips below.
How to Handle Job Changes Made Without Notification
1. Take a deep breath, and look at your situation calmly.
Before you let your ego get the best of you, step away from your desk to clear your mind. Avoid any possible “knee-jerk reaction” that might prevent you from reaching a positive and amicable solution.
2. Give yourself a “cooling off” period.
Provide yourself ample time to learn your job role and reconcile your expectations with reality. Experts say it takes an average 90 days for people to get settled in a new job and have a firm grasp of their role in the organization.
3. Check your facts.
First, review your job description, and note anything that you currently don’t have the chance to do.
Also, check if there is any formal development plan for your position. You might discover that seemingly dull and repetitive tasks are necessary groundwork for your actual role.
Try to ask people who have been in a similar role as yours or the person who previously held your job how they were able to adjust. Their insights might be able to help you fully understand the organization’s culture or a certain manager’s working style.
4. List down your new responsibilities.
Make a list of tasks and activities that you are doing that aren’t in your job description so you can present something concrete when you decide to approach your supervisor or manager.
5. Evaluate and decide if the changes still line up with your career goals.
Do some self-reflection. Ask yourself: What are the company’s values and goals? Is it walking out its “vision-mission”? Does this new role align with what I really want to be doing right now and my overall objectives and talents?
Am I experiencing changes in my job role due to changes in the company’s focus or financial status? Is my boss encouraging me to leave?
6. Talk to your manager.
In most cases, your line manager or immediate boss should be the first person to ask.
Make a polite and informal request for a meeting, saying something like, “It has been three months since I started working here and the job isn’t quite what I expected it to be. Could we meet and talk about this?”
Before the meeting, remind yourself to stay tactful and calm. Assertively express your concerns without complaining about the situation or demonstrating a negative attitude.
Bring a copy of your job description, the list of “new” or “additional” duties, and the questions you have about specific duties.
Also discuss what new responsibilities were added to your list, especially if they take up more time and effort and none of your “lesser” responsibilities were removed.
Seek clarity about your boss’s expectations and how your performance will be evaluated. Paraphrase if needed to check for understanding.
You may also point out any skills or experience you have that are currently underutilized, and emphasize how the team would benefit if you are given the chance to use them. You might also want to offer some ideas for resolving issues that has resulted in your “reassignment.”
Or you can ask your boss whether you can request for additional training and development to fulfill new tasks that aren’t in your original job description.
Also use the meeting to determine why your job role has changed or why you are being assigned additional tasks. Ask when you will return or be assigned your original responsibilities.
If your boss can’t say or estimate how long you have to take on a new role or additional tasks, there might be something else going on, such as the company might be in a currently difficult situation that can’t be disclosed at the moment.
If the change is performance-based, find ways to improve on your weaknesses. Try to find out what direction the company is heading, and equip yourself with skills to stay valuable to the business.
You may have to consult your HR department or get in touch with a lawyer or employment specialist if your issue isn’t resolved after speaking with your immediate boss.
What to Do if You Disagree with the Role Changes
If you don’t agree to the changes in your job role and you believe that there has been a breach of contract, get legal advice and plan your transition.
It’s also all right to look for a new job opportunity if you don’t see any upside to your “reassignment,” such as upskilling, building new relationships, or a possible promotion.
Change can be difficult, especially when it happens unexpectedly. The six tips will hopefully help you face your predicament in a more productive way.