If you hire an employee for one job, with certain duties, are you, as an employer in California, able to add additional requirements and threaten termination if the employee doesn’t complete these additional requirements?
This is a common situation, particularly when it comes to jobs requiring driver’s licenses. Although some employers initially hire an employee who does not have a license because such a requirement is not in the job description, many employers change the job descriptions to add a licensing requirement and threaten termination if the employee does not obtain a license.
In California, an employer may change an employee’s job description to add additional duties if the employee is hired at will. “At-will employment” means an employer can change an employee’s job duties, pay, title, hours, and more, and apply those changes to any future work. Thus, just as an employee may quit her job at any time (because she too works “at will”), so may an employer change the nature of a job by altering the job description at any time.
Of course, there are limitations on what an employer may change. An employer cannot change a job description to “punish” an employee who complies with a whistleblower law by reporting improper behavior the employee sees at her company. In addition, an employer may not change an employee’s job description to “constructively” terminate the employee by making the employee’s job, under the new job description, so difficult that any employee would have resigned under similar circumstances. Further, an employer may not change a job description based on an employee’s race, gender, sex, or national origin, among other protected categories. Thus, an employer has some restrictions on when and why it changes job descriptions.
Not all jobs are considered “at will.” For positions governed by an employment contract that are not “at will”, if an employer changes the terms of an employee’s work and these new terms are contrary to the employment contract, the employee could have a potential claim against you for breach of contract.
However, it is also possible that an employment contract states that employment is “at will” and thus a breach of contract claim would need to be based on a clear violation of the contract, such as if the employer announced a retroactive change in pay, or a refusal to honor a material term of the contract, such as for paid annual vacation. Employees represented by a union also will not be affected by changes in job duties, because such actions are not permissible for union members.
To discuss your employment law related issue, contact experienced employment lawyer Drew E. Pomerance today.