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Can An Employer Unilaterally Change My Title and Job Description?

sandpiper
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Joined: Oct 9 2005

I have a job with a charity to do marketing.

The director is now my direct manager, and is quite difficult to work with. I tend to stand my ground, and she perfers not to have employees who never say no. It's one of those situations where the charity is fairly progressive, but the manager isn't, and has no idea she isn't.

While no voices were raised and no swear words exchanged, we had a fairly heated argument about my job this week. I explained that she seems to be unilaterally changing my job description and that I have enough work and responsibility without her adding on more - that I haven't agreed to a new position that she seems to be trying to give me, and that this potential new job, if she wanted to come up with a title, would mean more responsibility, more work, and thus more pay. It was a really good conversation to have, from my point of view, as it felt important to say these things before I'm let go.

She dismissed all my concerns and claimed that I have a very bad attitude that has been a concern for quite some time.

I'm working on some important projects that will wrap up mid-February, so I don't expect to be canned until then. In order to delay my firing til April or so, I have explained that all my employee reviews (usually completed in March), including the last one completed by her, have been excellent - straight A's, with no mention of a bad attitude. So if there are real problems in my work or my work personality, I would expect those to be documented in an employee review, and then expect to have time to fix those relations with staff.

Should I stick in out for a few more months until she can find or make up legal grounds to fire me? Does it seem she has grounds already? Can an employer change your role without any discussion or agreement on your part after years of service? And before I leave, can I be sued successfully if I send an email to all staff with legal advice on how to stand up for yourself - does that sort of email imply my manager has done something illegal?


Comments

jas
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Joined: Jun 6 2005
Is there no one higher up you can talk to Sandpiper? Or perhaps your peers or colleagues there. It seems too bad that you are immediately having to think about being fired. Are you sure that's on the agenda? Sometimes we can really misread someone, even if they are assholes. I would think, even in a private sector job, that you would have some recourse in the fact that the "attitude problem" had not been raised prior to her telling you about it in your heated discussion. And if that is the basis upon which you are to be fired, it would need, as you say, to be in your performance reviews, and you would need to have an ample chance to correct it.

I would think that the job title and description would need to be changed through some sort of communal process, like a board meeting? Especially if it's a charity. And at the very least, even if it was entirely within her discretion, some notice would need to be given to you, and even perhaps asking you to re-apply for it, with the understanding that you would have the right of first refusal. But I don't know for sure. Most reasonable workplaces operate with a view to keeping you on, not getting rid of you.

I would consult your provincial labour laws. As well as the HR policies of the organization. Is there an HR department or person? Surely they would have some info for you.

sandpiper
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Joined: Oct 9 2005

Thanks jas,

It is a shame I know firing is on the agenda, but after that last conversation, it most definitely is - just the way she works. And I'm basing that on her history of firings. She fires, the organization gets sued, and we pay more in lawyer fees and settlements then some of my co-workers make in a year.

I would guess I might get so far as to having her ask me to re-apply for a new job. But what is this 'right of refusal'? If I say no to the new terms (which would be new responsibilities, plus old ones, with no more hours, and no more pay), it's not like my old position would still be there, right? She'd be offering a new position, and my old one would no longer exist.

I'll check into the National Office's HR policies.


Pride for Red D...
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Joined: Feb 11 2006

You definitely have the right to say no to changing jobs within you organization without being told or without some sort of meeting.

I wouldn't send out that email,  it might be in bad taste, and your co-workers likely already know what''s going on. 


jas
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Joined: Jun 6 2005

If there's a national office, that's who I'd be writing, outlining the conflict, letting them know that this manager's HR style is costing the organization money, and that they are about to lose you, as well, and is this really the way they want things run? If they don't respond, and this is a charity you're talking about, why not write a piece for the local or national paper, discussing how people's donations are being spent at this particular charity ? How much for example has the organization had to pay in the last so many years in lawsuits and settlements?


sandpiper
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Joined: Oct 9 2005
I'd love to do that stuff jas, but I signed a confidentiality agreement (as do all employees when hired here), and I have no idea if this sort of stuff would be covered by it. I used to think it just applied to info about our members and things like that, but I've since been told by employees that things like wages are top secret too.

triciamarie
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Joined: Jul 28 2006

sandpiper, why don't you check in with a labour lawyer about some of these questions? If you live in Ontario, the Law Society has a referral service where for $6 on your phone bill you can talk to someone for up to half an hour, with no further obligation. The number is 1-900-565-4LRS (4577). There may be a similar system in other provinces or you may even be able to get a half-hour in-person consultation for free.

I would consider doing that before sending any mass emails, or doing anything else that could be used as proof that the employment relationship is no longer viable.


Michelle
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Joined: May 10 2001

Is your workplace unionized?  I'm assuming it's not since you haven't mentioned filing grievances and such.

triciamarie's advice sounds good to me.  I wouldn't be sending out any mass e-mails to the staff either.


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005

I hate to be a pessimist, but this is a non-unionized position. There is nothing stopping an employer from firing a non-unionized employee, any old time, without the need for any cause or "legal grounds". All that is required is notice, as defined by the applicable labour code (x number of weeks, usually not much), and/or whatever is provided for in an individual contract of employment (usually nothing). The only exceptions are where the dismissal is either contrary to some human rights legislation (doesn't seem to be the case here) or in some way abusive or defamatory or unlawful (e.g. revenge for exercising legal rights) - in which case, a court or adjudicator (depending on the jurisdiction) may add to the paid notice period.

As for changing job titles, job descriptions, workloads, etc. - well, that's life, otherwise known as management rights. There is no recourse, not even in a unionized environment, unless there are negotiated restrictions in the collective agreement. Non-union? Forget it. More pay? If the boss feels like it.

Recourse? Some of the above advice is good. Go over her head, find someone reasonable to talk to, find out how the board works and appeal to them, etc. But don't waste a single moment researching the labour laws or talking to a lawyer.

I may be wrong, but I sincerely doubt it. But if it only costs $6 to have a lawyer tell you I'm wrong and what legal recourse you have, go for it.

 


Sven
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Joined: Jul 22 2005
Unionist wrote:

But if it only costs $6 to have a lawyer tell you I'm wrong and what legal recourse you have, go for it.

I wonder why they even bother with charging $6?

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sandpiper
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Joined: Oct 9 2005
Hey! Good news unionist. I spoke to a labour lawyer, and unionized or not unionized, my employer cannot unilaterally change the terms of my contract. He expects my boss to fire me, and then he'll step in to help me get a package from them. It won't mean I get to keep my job, just get me a few months pay (as other employees who've successfully sued her have received). He also spoke about "constructive dismissal", where an employer refuses to abide by the rules of the original contract, and thus invalidates that contract.

So you're right, in that a non-unionized employee cannot not be fired. But what she's doing is against the terms of my contract, and I do have legal recourse.

Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005

sandpiper wrote:
He expects my boss to fire me, and then he'll step in to help me get a package from them. It won't mean I get to keep my job, just get me a few months pay (as other employees who've successfully sued her have received).

Excellent! As I said, if you did have some initial contract, you can sometimes get increased paid notice - but you don't get to keep your job.

Here's the big difference if you're unionized: They can't fire you at all without being able to prove just cause (i.e., wrongdoing or incompetence or incurable absenteeism etc. on your part). And that doesn't even depend on the specifics of your collective agreement. [They can lay you off for lack of work, of course.] It's one of the unheralded benefits of unionization.

Glad you've got a course of action - let us know what happens.


triciamarie
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Joined: Jul 28 2006

There is no question that to be unionized is preferable when facing the threat of termination, particularly in a situation like sandpiper is faced with here.

However for workers who don't have the benefit of unionization, it's important to recognize that termination and even lay-off in that workplace are legally considered breach of contract. As I understand, that factor is reflected in the termination pay that such a worker may be entitled to, as well as the possibility of damages etc as you point out, Unionist. Many workers make the decision (knowingly or not) to accept the employment standards rate instead, or they focus on pursuing their employment standards rights, rather than seeking legal advice. So in many cases they come away with less.

It's a very complicated system, and (as recently came up in another thread) it also puts the onus on workers to establish their own case. This impedes access to justice because it depends on workers (a) having this knowledge, and (b) taking the initiative to use the court system -- an intimidating and offputting prospect, especially as they are going up against their former employer. There is also more uncertainty. Unscrupulous employers take advantage of that vulnerability.


Stargazer
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Joined: Jun 9 2004
Sven, The Lawyer Referral service costs 6 dollars for a half hour with a lawyer in that line (Employment Law). It used to be free, but 6 dollars is a small price to pay for some legal advice.

jas
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Joined: Jun 6 2005

Great news, Sandpiper, but it's still sad that you are nevertheless facing termination based entirely, it would seem, on the whims of this one manager; a manager who, presumably, must answer to a board or the national office. Why is this being allowed to occur, and are her higher-ups aware of what is going on? I would make sure they are. Again, writing a letter - it can be very polite - just explaining that you have until recently enjoyed your job and you are now being terminated without just cause.

I would think if an organization needs to change its operations etc., that valued employees would be brought into that discussion, but I guess there really are a lot of terrible, terrible managers out there who really don't know how to manage.

 


jas
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Joined: Jun 6 2005

Not to mention how difficult an unfair termination is to explain in your next job interview. Whatever you say, the benefit of the doubt is usually going to be given to the previous employer, unless that employer is well known to be a shit-stick.


triciamarie
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Joined: Jul 28 2006

Yeah... it would be great if it were possible to rely completely on your lawyer to protect your best interests, but lawyers do want to get paid, and if there is no termination there is probably no payment. Many will still encourage you to work things out with your employer and keep your job if that is possible; but not all.

So if the writing is really on the wall, if upper management is unusually decent, maybe they would be willing to step in. But if there is still some hope that this will all die down, then going over the manager's head -- especially any personal comments or rancour -- could itself be a reason for dismissal. It could also provoke the employer into alleging cause, ie to protect the manager or the organization. If that allegation were to stick I believe it would cancel the termination package and also eliminate any possibility of a positively worded written reference, which otherwise could be negotiated into the settlement.

These things can get so ugly. One of my workers' comp clients was not just terminated, the employer actually laid criminal charges saying that he damaged their property when it fell on him. It was absolutely outrageous. I wish I could say that justice prevailed in that instance but it did not, because he couldn't afford the criminal defence.


Wilf Day
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Joined: Oct 31 2002
triciamarie wrote:
for workers who don't have the benefit of unionization, it's important to recognize that termination and even lay-off in that workplace are legally considered breach of contract. . . Many workers make the decision (knowingly or not) to accept the employment standards rate instead, or they focus on pursuing their employment standards rights, rather than seeking legal advice. So in many cases they come away with less. It's a very complicated system. . .

Actually the principle is dead simple. The Employment Standards Act sets the minimum wage. It also sets the minimum notice period for termination. Most people are entitled to more than minimum wage. Most people are entitled to more than minimum notice of termination. While there is no cast-in-stone formula for the length of notice a court will award, it depends on only two things, generally: your length of service, and the level of responsibility of your position. It can get more complex if you were recruited to your current job recently, and gave up a long-service job to take it.

Sven wrote:
I wonder why they even bother with charging $6?

It covers the administration cost for the service, so the Law Society doesn't subsidize it.

triciamarie wrote:
But if there is still some hope that this will all die down, then going over the manager's head -- especially any personal comments or rancour -- could itself be a reason for dismissal. It could also provoke the employer into alleging cause, ie to protect the manager or the organization.

This is a difficult one. You would think the organization would want you to be able to go to the senior HR manager and ask "do you know that I and Miss X have been having some differences? Is there a process for you to have any input from me, or does the process strictly follow the chain of command?" With all the new emphasis on organizations protecting and rewarding whistle-blowers, there should be a personnel policy providing some kind of HR ombudsman. If the organization is too small for that, there should be some less formal equivalent. So I would inquire about the process, before going into any detail.


wwSwimming
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Joined: May 1 2006

sandpiper wrote:
The director is now my direct manager, and is quite difficult to work with. I tend to stand my ground, and she perfers not to have employees who never say no.

 does this mean she prefers to have employees who occasionally say yes ?  or no ?

but, my guess is, the director prefers 'team players', i.e. the proverbial "yes man" (or woman.) 

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triciamarie
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Joined: Jul 28 2006

Thanks for that clarification, Wilf Day. That is a perfect analogy about minimum wage and minimum notice -- I'm going to use that! The problem we see is that by the time workers show up at our office (having been terminated due to their work injury), lots of times they have already elected to go the ESA route, and in fact from what I have heard the provincial government's general information clerks only seem to be aware of that alternative.

Good idea too about how to handle the insubordination issue.


maria anderson
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Joined: Sep 29 2009

It would be great if it were possible to rely completely on your [spam link removed, spammer banned] to protect your best interests, but lawyers do want to get paid, and if there is no termination there is probably no payment.


krishraj
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Joined: Sep 29 2009

[spam link removed, spammer banned] One of the most popular and extensive sources of information on the global legal profession with lawyer locator service.


Stargazer
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Joined: Jun 9 2004

Two spammers in one!! And an SEO.


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