The Broken, Yet Unspoken, Word

Contract (From the Free Dictionary Website)It’s not surprising many people forget, when they accept a job offer, it’s under an agreement of terms. In some cases it’s a written job description that clearly states what the employee is expected to do while working for the employer, and is signed on the first day of work in the employer’s or HR manager’s office. It’s not that far removed from a signed contract. It can also be less formalized, or even agreed to verbally and not put down on paper, but the employee still has an understanding of what he or she is expected to do from their job description. With that said, what happens if that same employee discovers his or her job description changes to something not agreed to, and does not want to do? While it is a personal judgement call for each employee when faced with this situation, one option the employee will take is resign. This is called constructive dismissal.

According to Toronto Employment Lawyer Karen Zvulony, constructive dismissal is defined “where an employee quits because their employer unilaterally and fundamentally changed the conditions of employment.” It is very important to understand the meaning of this definition. It does not mean the person quit in a hissyfit because they disliked their boss, co-worker, or because the employee had a bad work attitude. It simply means the reason why you took the job was changed to something differnent.

Until recently, I didn’t know that term even existed.  “Constructive dismissal” sounds like an oxymoron: there’s nothing constructive about being dismissed, as being dismissed is supposed to be a bad thing. It’s something that has come to the forefront of the media’s attention in light of the economic collapse of 2008 and the downsizing in the private sector. Employees are being asked to do more for less, with no change in pay, and no thanks for the effort. Their work/life balance is put into chaos and, in some extreme cases, their mental and physical health is put at risk. A part of this comes from employers changing the agreement of the job offer that was understood by the employee.

As I said in the beginning, it’s a personal judgement call for each employee if he or she wants to continue. It sometimes boils down to is the lesser of two evils: keep the job that is pushing you closer to your personal limit, or consider resigning at the risk you may not find a better job. Some employees don’t have a chance to find a new job because their personal time needed to look for a new job is now consumed by their employment. As a result, resigning without a new job to go to is the only solution. It’s easier for a single person to come to that drastic decision since they have no one but themself who will be adversely affected by their decision. Those with families may not have such freedom to choose: the mortgage and children cannot be put at risk so the devil you know is taken.

I find this situation involving constructive dismissal unacceptable. Two-thirds of your daytime involves your job. You see your employer and co-workers more than you see your family and friends. If employees must invest that amount of personal time into work, then it is fair to state:

1) They should like the work they do in order to work there for that amount of time.

2) Both the employee and employer are responsible for honoring the terms of why the employee accepted the job offer in the first place.

I would consider a significant change in one’s job description the same as the ending of the original job and the creation of a new job opening, with duties outlined in the new job. If it were up to me, I would like to see employers handle this situation in the following manner:

  • The employee is told in clear and understandable terms that their job description is going to change, and why it must change.
  • The employee is given the new job description that they are expected to do, if they choose to do so, with compensation for accepting this new change. This compensation could come in the form of increased pay, flex hours, improved benefits, or a change in working conditions that is positive for the employee.
  • The employee is given the choice to do one of the following:
    •  The employee accepts the new job description and understands he or she is responsible for carrying out these new duties.
    •  The employee refuses. This is considered the equivalent of a layoff, and the employer must offer a severance or advance warning of layoff.

As I said in my previous blog post, we need to understand the story behind why a person is unemployed. Constructive dismissal is very difficult to quantify for just reason to leave a job, especially in rough economic times like the one we are in now.  Nevertheless, it must be understood that no employer has the right to unilaterally change the job description of an employee’s position, especially if the employee enjoys the work they do. It’s why they took the job offer in the first place.

Thanks for reading!


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