Demotion at Work

Caragh Bailey
6 min read
Demotion from Employment Law Friend

What is employee demotion?

Demotion is when you are reassigned to a job role of a lower rank. It usually involves less responsibility or requires less skilled work and is of a lower pay grade.

There are two main reasons:

It can be a good option when you have committed an act of gross misconduct or unresolvable poor performance. Your employer can keep you as an employee and you can avoid dismissal and unemployment, as well as being relieved of some responsibilities at work. Unfortunately this will include a pay cut.

If you are moved to a different position of the same rank, this is called a lateral move, or deployment.

Is being demoted legal?

It is unlawful for your employer to change your contract except for in specific circumstances such as the two described above.
If your employer breaches your contract you may be able to leave your job on grounds of constructive dismissal and bring a claim to the employment tribunal.
Alternately you can stay in your job and bring claims of unlawful deductions of wages (if your demotion includes a pay cut) and unfair dismissal from your old role.

Demotion at work: legal rights

Your contract of employment might include a clause which states demotion as a potential disciplinary action. If not, your employer cannot demote you without your permission. If you are facing disciplinary or performance management, your employer must follow the ACAS code of practise on disciplinary and grievance procedures. In this case demotion is likely to be offered as an alternative to dismissal and you will be given the choice. you have the right to refuse demotion.

If you believe your employer has failed to follow the ACAS code, or their own procedure, you may have a case for wrongful dismissal. If you believe the reasons for your demotion were unfair, or unreasonably harsh, read more about unfair dismissal.

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Demotion due to organisational restructuring

If your employer is making redundancies, and you qualify for statutory redundancy rights they must fulfil their obligations to:
    Consult - A meaningful discussion with employees or representatives about the potential options
    Select - Fairly select which employees will be made redundant
    Offer Suitable Alternatives - Offer any pre-existing available roles to those who have been selected for redundancy.

If you have been selected for redundancy, or if your employer is having to restructure the organisation for 'good business reasons', they may offer you alternative employment.
This may be a job of an equal pay grade, higher, or slightly lower. You have the right to refuse the new position. However, if you refuse a 'reasonable' alternative job, you waive your right to redundancy.

If you and your employer disagree on whether the alternative you have been offered is reasonable, we recommend that you do not refuse it off-hand, but accept the new job on a trial basis, and seek legal advice. Our employment solicitors are experienced in negotiating alternative employment arrangements and can advise you on how to achieve the best possible outcome in your case.

If your dispute is regarding your employers 'good business reasons' for restructuring, you will need case specific advice. It may be helpful to speak with your trade union.

What happens when you are demoted?

If you have agreed to a demotion, make sure you get a new written contract which reflects your new job roles, responsibilities, pay and benefits.
Your employer is responsible for making sure you are capable of carrying out your new role. This includes providing proper training for the tasks or systems which are new to you.

Being demoted from management

Joining the team you were previously responsible for can be especially challenging to your workplace relationships and self esteem.
Here's some tips for how to handle a job demotion:
  • Get support from those around you. This is a perfectly reasonable time to seek workplace counselling, if available
  • Try to rebuild your working relationship with your managers. Demonstrate your commitment and positive attitude
  • If you decide to seek a new job and a fresh start, you can help to ensure a good reference by handling the demotion gracefully
  • If possible, don't leave your job until you have found a new one
  • If possible do not alert your colleagues or managers that you are looking for a new job, it may make things worse for you at work
  • Be prepared to explain your demotion, but be careful not to overshare. Don't make excuses for your shortcomings, or blame the company. Emphasise what you have learned

Frequently Asked Questions
In employment the most appropriate word is demote, in sports you might 'relegate' a team from one league to another. Essentially, it means 'to lower in rank'.
Your demotion is subject to the same notice period as dismissal. Check your contract or employee handbook to find out what your notice period. Statutory notice is one week in the UK, except for in certain circumstances, including zero hour contracts.
If you are experiencing high levels of stress, a drop in performance, low motivation or low job satisfaction that is affecting your physical or mental health and happiness, you might consider voluntary demotion. This can help you strike a better work/life balance and find more enjoyment in your work, it may also allow you to take a different career path, making you available to apply for another role in a different area of your profession.

You should weigh up the other options, including:
  • Renegotiate your duties, see if your manager can redistribute tasks amongst your team, to match each individuals strengths
  • Pursue a lateral transfer, apply for a different role at the same paygrade, providing a fresh experience without the pay-cut

Be sure of your decision before you begin discussions with your manager, as this may stop them from putting you forward or considering you for promotions in the future.

Have you been unfairly demoted at work?
There is much more to winning your case than simply being in the right, our specialist employment solicitors know all the laws and tactics, to make sure you get the best chance at a fair settlement. Get in contact with us and see how we can help.

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This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of our company. For employment law advice please get in contact and speak to your employment law solicitors.
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