Facing Title / Salary Change

If offered a job title and salary change (lower) and not accepted, is it considered a layoff. Current position being reevaluated. No performance issues exist.

1 answer  |  asked Jan 14, 2003 3:32 PM [EST]  |  applies to New York

Answers (1)

David M. Lira
What's in a name?

The law makes no distinction between terms like "reduction-in-force," "firing," "layoff" and "termination." They are all the same thing, although to some degree the terms might describe the genesis and motivation for the act. But, employers have been know to lie, for example, releasing an employee from a job saying it was a reduction in force required by economic needs while really being motivated by something like age or race discrimination.

In particular situations, the law is concerned with the motivation behind the termination of an employee. One example was already given, where the employer claims the termination was a RIF while an employee says it was discrimination. If a lawsuit follows, it would be up to the court to sort out the real motivation.

For another example, with unemployment compensation, the Unemployment Compensation Board initially just wants to know that the employer terminated you. The employer could prevent you from getting unemployment by claiming you were fired "for cause." In this context, "cause" means the employee did something wrong. The employee may disagree, and ask for a hearing on the issue. At the hearing, the hearing officer is interested in figuring out the real motivation for the termination. Was it really that the employee did something wrong? Or was it some other reason?

There is another way for me to look at your query. I could look at it as the employee with being faced with the choice of taking a demotion or being fired. The possible questions from this are: Are there any consequences to the employer? Are there consequences to the employee?

As to the employer, because of the employment at will doctrine, the employer is free to change any term or condition of employment at any time for any reason, even for a false reason or no reason, unless the reason (or motivation) is one prohibited by law. So, if the employer wants to lower your pay, and change your job, the employer is free to do so.

If you reject the demotion, because the employer may terminate you for any reason or no reason at all, the employer is free to let you go.

I am no expert on unemployment compensation, but based on some of the stuff that has come my way over the years, my impression is that at one time, when an employee was given the choice of demotion or termination, the employee would be able to get unemployment compensation. In other words, there seemed to be no consequence to the employee.

I am not so sure that is the case anymore. I have seen employer argue that because the employee had the opportunity to work in the demoted position and rejected it, the employee failed to fullfill the obligation imposed under the umeployment compensation law that the employee accept whatever gainful employment that presented itself. I have this sense that employers have had some success with this arguemtn, but I don't know how much.

posted by David M. Lira  |  Jan 15, 2003 08:52 AM [EST]

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