Change is a reality in the current business environment – and if done well – can help grow your business. Your employees may also see change as an opportunity rather than a threat.

What are 'reasonable' changes to an employee's role?

When you change staff duties, be conscious of what might be considered a 'reasonable' change within the scope of their position, and what may constitute a redundancy or termination if challenged.

Reasonable changes are usually those that don't alter the essential position.

Examples or fair and unfair job changes:

  • Fair: an administrative staff member who's asked to undertake lunch coverage of reception duties or learn a new system could be considered to fall within the scope of an Office Assistant
  • Unfair: moving the same Office Assistant into a role which consists primarily of food and beverage service could constitute a redundancy situation.

Visit our page on how to deal with redundancy and retrenchment for more ideas.

What are the risks in changing an employee's duties?

Implementing significant changes to an employee's duties can have risks, primarily occurring when an employee claims:

  • their position is redundant
  • they've been effectively – and unfairly – dismissed
  • they've been treated unfavourably because of a protected attribute.

Claims of unfavourable treatment are mostly pursued under Fair Work Act 2009A key risk for employers arises when there are other employees who don't have their position changed.

If the changes are not managed well, there's the risk of staff feeling disenfranchised or fearing reduced job security, which can result in possible staff turnover or low morale.

Visit our page on how to engage staff and reduce turnover for more ideas.

Key steps to best manage risk during change

To help minimise risk, you should:

  • identify the issues and proposed solutions
  • consult with staff
  • document the changes.

In any situation of change, you should be prepared to outline exactly what the issues are, and the changes that are proposed to rectify these.

Key questions for employers

To minimise risk, you should also ask yourself some key questions:

  • What is the issue?
    • Examples include lack of coverage during lunch hours, upcoming holidays or sick leave
  • How many employees may be affected?
    • More than one may require broad consultation, including union involvement?
  • Does this impact on current entitlements or hours?
  • Will this impact on the job classification and pay rates?
    • Are the changes of a nature that may result in a higher or lower classification?
  • How do I approach and implement this change?

Redundancy claims

In the case of a redundancy claim the employer may be required to pay a severance amount. An employee could also lodge an unfair dismissal claim. A key consideration in both of these scenarios would be whether the changes resulted in a change to income.

Visit our page on how to dismiss staff properly to find more information about unfair dismissal claims.

Consult your staff often

Perhaps the most important step in any situation of change is to consult with your employees. This is good practice and is a requirement in situations of major change under many awards and agreements if the broader workforce is impacted.

Employees can also offer valuable input into any changes and highlight potential issues prior to them arising.

Visit our page on communication skills for managers to help you build good processes.

Required documentation

If employees' hours or core requirements have changed, it is good practice to document this by reissuing job descriptions or making amendments as needed to employment contracts.