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Is It Legal For My Employer To Change My Job Description?

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Can My Employer Change My Job Description?

When you are hired by a company, it is typically to do a specific job based on your skills and experience. The big question then is: what happens if your employer changes your job description? Are you required to perform different job duties than what you were hired to do?
As a general rule, the answer is yes. If you are an at-will employee, then your employer may change your job description, including adding additional job duties. However, if your job description is changed for an illegal reason – such as to punish you for reporting wrongdoing – then you may be able to file an employment law claim against your employer.

At Odell Law, we represent employees who experience workplace injustice. If you believe that your employer has violated California law by changing your job description, reach out today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.

General Rule: Employers May Change Job Descriptions for At-Will Employees

California, like most states in the U.S., is an “at-will” employment state. This means that unless you are in a union, working for the government, or have a specific employment contract, your employer may terminate you at any time and for any reason – so long as that reason is not illegal. At-will employment also means that an employer may change a worker’s job duties, title, pay, hours, and more at any time.

If you are an at-will employee, then your employer may change your job description at any time. This includes adding additional duties or requirements to maintain your position. An employer may even threaten termination if a worker does not comply with these extra job duties or requirements.

Consider Bill:

Bill was hired to work in the warehouse for a company that sells and delivers goods. When Bill was hired, he did not need to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL), as his job duties only involved being in the warehouse. Two years into his job, his boss tells him that they have a shortage of drivers – and  he must get his CDL and start driving delivery trucks if he wants to continue to be employed.

In this situation, Bill probably has to obtain a CDL – or risk termination. Due to the fact that Bill is an at-will employee, his employer may change his job description and duties. Even though Bill never signed up to be a driver, he may be required to change job duties if he wants to stay employed.

This may seem unfair, but in most cases, it is perfectly legal. At-will employment is often more favorable to employers than to employees. Keep in mind that being an at-will employee means that you can quit at any time, for any reason as well. If you don’t want to change your job duties, you have the option of leaving your position for something new.

Exceptions: When a Job Description Is Changed for an Illegal Reason

There are limitations on an employer’s ability to change an employee’s job description or duties. If the underlying reason for the change is illegal, then an affected employee may be able to file a lawsuit against their employer.

Illegal reasons to change an employee’s job description or duties may include:

  • Retaliating against a whistleblower;
  • Making a job intolerable so that the employee is forced to resign (constructive termination); and
  • Discriminating against a person based on their membership in a protected class (based on race, color, ancestry or national origin, religion, age, disability, sex or gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, medical condition, genetic information, marital status or military or veteran status).

For Example:

Beth works as a machinist at a factory and is the the only female machinist at the company. During her employment, Beth is consistently sexually harassed based on her gender from her coworkers and managers alike. Eventually, Beth complains to human resources. Shortly thereafter, her boss amends her job description to include menial duties such as cleaning the bathroom. 

In this situation, changing her job duties appears to be for an illegal reason: to retaliate against Beth for complaining about sexual harassment. The changes may also be to force her to quit (where termination would make it obviously illegal ). In this situation, a seasoned Orange County employment lawyer may be able to pursue a claim against her employer on her behalf.

Lastly, if you have an employment contract, are in a union, or work for the government, then your employer may not be permitted to unilaterally change your job description or duties. Doing so may be a violation of your employment contract or collective bargaining agreement. An employment attorney or union representative may help you determine what legal remedies you may pursue.

For more questions, you can contact us at 949-771-8173 or fill out our contact form at the bottom of the page.

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