Changes within your business are sometimes necessary to adapt to changes in the business environment. If done well, change can help grow your business. It's also possible for you to manage change in such a way that your employees can see change as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Risks in changing an employee's role

If role changes aren't managed well, there's the risk of staff feeling disenfranchised or that their jobs aren't secure. This can result in low morale and potentially increase staff turnover.

If you make significant changes to an employee's duties, you can also risk them claiming that:

  • their position is redundant
  • they've been effectively and unfairly dismissed
  • they've been treated unfavourably because of a protected attribute such as race or sexual orientation

Unfavourable treatment claims

This risk of an employee claiming unfavourable treatment increases when there are other employees who don't have their position changed.

Claims of unfavourable treatment and discrimination are mostly pursued under the Fair Work Act 2009.

Redundancy and dismissal 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.

See Dismiss staff properly for more information about unfair dismissal claims.

Reasonable changes to an employee's role

A change to staff duties must be considered 'reasonable' within the scope of their position. If the change is too drastic and 'unreasonable', it could be seen as a redundancy or termination.

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

Examples of fair and unfair job changes:

  • Fair – an administrative staff member who's asked to cover reception duties over lunch or learn a new system could be considered a reasonable change that falls within the scope of their office assistant role.
  • Unfair – moving the same office assistant into a role that's primarily food and beverage service could constitute a redundancy situation.

How to manage change to reduce risk

To help minimise risk, you should:

  • identify the issues and analyse your ideas for solutions
  • consult with staff
  • document the changes

Analyse the issue and solutions

In any change, you should be able to outline exactly what the issues are and the changes you've proposed to rectify these. For example:

  • the issue might be a lack of coverage during lunch hours, upcoming holidays or sick leave
  • the change solution might be to train an administrative assistant on reception to cover the role as needed

Once you know what the issue and proposed solution is, ask yourself these questions:

  • How many employees might be affected? If more than one, you might need to consult the entire organisation and the union if there is one.
  • Does this affect current employee entitlements or hours?
  • Could the changes result in a higher or lower job classification and affect pay rates?
  • How do I execute this change?

Consult your staff often

Perhaps the most important step in any situation of change is to consult with your employees. Not only is this good practice but it's a requirement under many awards and agreements if it's a major change that affects the broader workforce.

Employees can also offer valuable input into any changes and highlight potential issues before they arise.

See Communication skills for managers to help you build good processes.

Document the changes and amend contracts

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