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Demoted At Work?  What Are Your Options – Industrial Relations Claims

Demoted at work? What are your options – Industrial Relations Claims

If you are suddenly demoted at work, would you know what to do and what your options are?

A demotion can be a fair and legitimate action taken by a boss against an employee who has performance issues, but demotions can also be unfair and unreasonable, particularly if it diminishes the worker’s standing, or has a significant effect on their earnings.

A case study

*Toby worked as a duty manager at a Queensland country pub, but his boss had concerns about his work performance, allegedly telling him, “I was thinking of firing you, but I’m going to give you a second option.”

The deal was that Toby would be demoted from duty manager to a shift supervisor, which would mean a $10,000 cut in his salary.

The owner allegedly said, “I’ll give you the mail, everybody pulls their weight around here, and you’ll pick up glasses like the rest of us,” to which Toby replied, “I duty manage, that’s what staff do.”

“You might be a manager, but you have to work like us mere mortals do,” the boss told him.

Toby was insistent, “Nup, it’s not my job,” he said.

The owner then allegedly said, “Well it is your fu-king job and you’ll fu-king do it.”

“Im not a minion,” was Toby’s reply.

Demotions can be tricky

Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at Industrial Relations Claims, said the case highlights how tricky demotions can be for both bosses and workers.

“An employer might think they have a right to demote someone, and an employee might think they have a right to their existing job – neither are correct,” he said.

A demotion can be a fair and legitimate action taken by a boss against an employee who has performance issues, but demotions can also be deemed to be unfair and unreasonable, particularly if it diminishes the worker’s standing, or has a significant effect on their earnings.

“Just because you’re demoted does not mean you’ve got an open and shut case for unfair dismissal,” Mr Heffernan said.

“It might be that the Fair Work Commission could consider the demotion was fair in the circumstances.

“At the same time, just because you demote someone, doesn’t mean you’re immune from an unfair dismissal claim.

“Demotions are a really complicated area that if you go in using brute force – on either side – you may end up not having a case.”

Worker accepted demotion

As for Toby, he begrudgingly accepted the demotion and his new employment conditions, and continues to work at the pub.

“If the worker does not want to accept the new conditions, their only real option, which is a difficult one, is to decline the new offer and force the employer’s hand to make a decision to terminate them, and then fight it out in the Fair Work Commission,” Mr Heffernan said.

“But be warned, while a demotion, even without warning, might seem incredibly unfair at the time, it may not be ruled unfair later by the Commission.”

Mr Heffernan said any employee facing demotion should seek urgent specialist advice.

“As experts, we can examine the circumstances that led up to the demotion, and determine how significant a job change the new role will be.”

*name changed

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