Can an Employer Change Your Job Description?
Wondering whether your employer can change your job description? Perhaps you’ve just started a new job and your duties seem substantially different from those advertised in the job listing. Or maybe you’ve been in a job for a while, and now your employer is proposing changes to the role, adding or subtracting responsibilities in a way that gives you pause.
In many cases, employers do have the right to change job descriptions to meet the needs of their organization.
But it’s important to understand how and why they can make those changes and what you can do to mitigate the impact to your career.
What Is a Job Description?
A job description outlines the basic function and responsibilities of a specific job title. It typically includes the tasks, duties, goals, and expectations for the person in the position. Often, it will also provide a reporting structure, indicating where the role falls in the organization chart.
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, 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 every U.S. state except for Montana, employees are presumed to be hired at-will. This means that their employment is voluntary, and they can quit when they want. Although it’s standard to give two weeks’ notice, most employees are not required to do so by law.
However, at-will employment also means that companies can change employees’ jobs or lay them off as they see fit—provided, of course, that their reason for terminating the employee isn’t discriminatory under the law.
In short, in most cases, your employer can change your job description at any time.
Employees Covered by a Contract
An important exception covers employees who are governed by an employment contract or a collective bargaining agreement that 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.
However, not every union contract explicitly covers all changes to job duties. In certain situations, an employer may be able to make some alterations without union approval. For example, if a contract allows the employer to make or revise policies, the company may be able to change a rule without negotiating with the union.
If you have specific questions about your contract, it’s best to ask your union representative or consult with an employment attorney for more information.
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 and 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. It's important to get employee support for organizational changes.
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 everyone involved.
The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.
SHRM. "Managing Organizational Change." Accessed March 16, 2020.
National Conference of State Legislatures. "At-Will Employment - Overview." Accessed April 28, 2020.
Indiana Law Journal. "The Role of Job Classification in Collective Bargaining." Accessed March 16, 2020.
The National Law Review. "NLRB Relaxes Standard for Employer Changes to Employees' Terms and Conditions of Employment." Accessed April 28, 2020.
U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. "Facts About Retaliation." Accessed March 16, 2020.
U.S. Department of Labor. "Fact Sheet # 77B: Protection for Individuals under the FMLA." Accessed March 16, 2020.