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Companies and businesses aren’t static. They’re dynamic, constantly changing. As your company changes, employees and their responsibilities may also change.

Maybe there are a lot of employee vacancies, lay-offs have left some gaps, or mergers (and other company changes) have led to employees being given additional responsibilities at work. With these shifts in job duties, what can employers legally and reasonably expect of their employees? And should you as an employee expect a raise?

Can a Company Legally Change Your Job Responsibilities?

If you are hired as an “at-will” employee, yes. An employer can change your job duties without your consent. With “at-will employment,” employees are allowed to quit at any time, and employers can change their job responsibilities, pay, title, hours, etcetera at any time (without your consent). See California Labor Code § 2922.

If you are not an at-will employee, your employer can be found in breach of contract if they make changes to the terms of your employment contract. If you have an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement and your role or pay changes, you may be able to sue your employer. Speak with a reliable employment law attorney to see if you have a legal case.

When asking an employee to perform duties outside of their job description or typical obligations, the best practice, as an employer, manager, or HR associate, is to get the employee’s agreement. While it’s not required, having a frank conversation quickly ensures everyone is in alignment. You may also consider creating policies for compensation of employees in interim positions, such as offering one-time bonuses, temporary increases in salary, or increased lunch and/or vacation time.

As an employee, if you are asked to take on more work, talk to your manager and/or an HR representative and see if a solution or agreement can be made for compensation (monetary or otherwise). If you are looking to negotiate a raise while assuming more responsibility, consider:

  • The length of time you’ll be expected to perform these duties, as temporary additional responsibilities can be compensated differently than permanent additions
  • Your timing, in terms of your manager’s workload, the company’s overall financial health, and when/if your company reviews employee compensation
  • How you want to be compensated (i.e., stock options, bonus, salary increase, more vacation days, work-from-home flexibility, paid training, etcetera)
  • Taking on the new responsibilities before asking for compensation, as you can accumulate evidence of how you’ve helped the company with the new duties
  • Remaining positive, as you want to be a team player and can welcome the opportunity to grow your skillset and resume

Why Have a Job Description at All?

Even as employee roles and expectations shift, job descriptions serve a variety of functions. During the hiring process, job descriptions are useful for hiring managers as they interview candidates. For candidates, the job description serves as an introduction to the company itself, employer brand and culture, and the role.

Even as roles or what they encompass change, the initial job description is a great springboard for both employers and employees. After employees are hired, job descriptions can be used to set goals and create learning and development tracks for certain positions.

If My Responsibilities Increased after a Layoff, Should I Make More?

Companies do not have to rehire laid-off workers. While layoffs aren’t meant to last forever, you may have more responsibilities for a long time. Laid-off employees also may not return. When, if ever, should you expect compensation?

In instances where layoffs are a byproduct of financial hardships, remaining employees and the employer are caught between a rock and a hard place. While employees will be asked to take on more work, the company may not financially be able to accommodate monetary requests.

If employees were laid off or made redundant for other reasons, you may be able to seek compensation for permanent or temporary additional responsibilities. But raises are not mandatory or guaranteed (nor are other forms of compensation).

Knowing When It’s Time to Speak with an Employment Attorney

If you feel as though your employer is in breach of your contract or your employment rights have been infringed upon, you should immediately seek legal counsel. Employers cannot change your role and responsibilities to:

  • Punish you as a whistleblower
  • Pressure you to quit or be fired by making the job impossibly hard to do
  • Prohibit leave guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Make discriminatory changes based on your race, gender, nationality, or sex

Employers are also prohibited from withholding your wages. They cannot ask employees to work off the clock, not be paid for meal breaks or commission, or not receive overtime pay. If your employer has illegally withheld pay from you, you do have legal recourse.

Have you found yourself in need of a California employment law attorney? At Polaris Law Group, Attorney Bill Marder has over 25 years of experience and a history of taking on cases other law firms turn down. For legal advice, call (888) 796-4010 or reach out online today.
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