We have recently done a bit of restructuring which amongst other changes meant we recruited a new manager externally. We had been doing the job with three of the senior staff doing parts of the new job. They have now been told that their job titles will revert to Administrator rather than Senior Administrator. One is unhappy that they have lost status, another is worried that it will impact on their salary progression in the long term and the third has enquired whether they can have a redundancy package. We are worried.

Peter replies:

There is no legal requirement to advertise jobs internally unless you have a policy which says that you will in which cases it is a contractual matter. Nevertheless, there is often a sensible approach to be taken which recognises that at least people cannot complain that they never had a chance.

Just because people have been doing a job does not mean that it cannot change. Job titles should not matter but people do get anxious of a ‘downgrading’ in their job title. It is very difficult for employees to win a constructive dismissal claim. They would have to prove that there was a fundamental breach of contract on the part of the employer, and that this breach caused them to resign. Most people are too sensible to resign and even if they were foolish enough to do so then a good solicitor would soon advise them of the low likelihood of winning. You should reassure them that they are still valued and the job will be much the same as it was before.

The Administrator who is anxious about her future salary progression also needs to be reassured, without being incautious in promising that which you cannot deliver.

If there is a substantial reduction in responsibilities then it is not inconceivable that a Tribunal would decide that there had been a substantial reduction in their job which fitted with the statutory definition. It is unlikely that the third administrator would win but it will be highly fact specific and if the job has changed significantly and the Tribunal do not like your way of doing things, then it may be more risky.

To avoid problems like this it is important to consult employees on major role changes before making them. By doing so, and making clear that you are thinking about making the changes (rather than intending to) you will give the employee an opportunity to state their objections, if they have any, and to decide for yourself what the risks are.

You can remind them that if they are still unhappy after you have seen them to listen to their concerns and reassure them that they are seen as valued employees, that they do have the right to raise a grievance. This usually puts people off but it is the proper way to deal with these matters and it has to be dealt with properly rather than left to fester.

Regardless of whether any of them raise a grievance, there is work to be done by the new manager in getting closer to them to reassure them that they are respected for what the have been doing and to discuss how they might continue to contribute at a higher level.

The guidance provided in this article is just that – guidance. Before taking any action make sure that you know what you are doing, or call us for specific advice.