Can an Employer Change Your Job Description?

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Is it acceptable for an employer to change a job description after a person has been hired? When can an employer change your job responsibilities? In many cases, employers do have the right to change job descriptions to meet the needs of their organization.

What Is a Job Description?

Most employers will develop job descriptions to formalize their expectations for the work efforts of employees in specific roles. Job advertisements are a form of a job description used to promote vacancies to prospective candidates.

Formal job descriptions often serve as the basis for performance evaluations as managers gauge whether employees have met or exceeded expectations in their role.

Information Included in a Job Description

Job descriptions go well beyond simply listing the duties and tasks required to carry out a particular role. They often include other elements like the purpose of the position, how the employee interfaces with other staff, who he or she reports to, and what kind of travel the employee will do.

Some job descriptions will include reference to outcomes or results that the employee should generate, such as sales goals or the number of client hours charged. Typically, qualifications like the skills, knowledge, education, certifications, level of prior experience, and physical demands for the job are also incorporated.

Some organizations create job descriptions based on a list of qualities and competencies that have been critical to the success of outstanding performers in that role over time. Since work roles evolve based on organizational needs and employee abilities, job descriptions should be updated periodically to reflect those changes.

When Employers Can Change Your Job Description

In most states, employees are considered to be hired at will meaning that their employment is voluntary and they can quit when they want. It also means that their employer can change their job or lay them off as they see fit. However, state laws do vary so check with your state department of labor for information on the law in your location.

Employees Covered by a Contract

An important exception covers employees who are governed by an employment contract or a collective bargaining agreement which stipulates a specific set of work roles or conditions.

Many union contracts state very explicitly what duties are associated with various positions. A union plumber can't be expected to paint the bathroom where she is installing fixtures, for example. In another example, if you are covered by an employment contract that specifies your job duties, your employer cannot change them without your agreement.

Employee Protections Against Job Changes

Employees are protected from changes in their job description that can be construed as retaliation by an employer in response to a worker exercising an employment right. For example, a whistleblower may have recourse if their job was changed after reporting a legal violation by their employer.

Changes by employers in the number of hours worked, schedule, location, or responsibilities to preclude the taking of a leave guaranteed under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are also prohibited.

Employers cannot transfer staff to another job to discourage an employee from taking a leave. Also, workers are guaranteed access to a substantially equivalent job upon their return to the workplace after completing a leave.

Employer Best Practices

Aside from these legal considerations, best Human Resource Management practices suggest that employers should seek employee agreement before making major changes in work roles and should redraft job descriptions to make the new role clear. Generally, morale and productivity are enhanced if workers approve their new job description.

If you are concerned about your job responsibilities being changed, it's a good idea to see if you can discuss the situation with your manager or your company's Human Resources department to see if there is a way you can work out a solution that is agreeable to both yourself and your employer.