Unfortunately, demotions in the workplace do happen. As an employee, if you find that you have been wrongfully demoted, there actually is only so much that you can do about it. Yes, there is labor law in place to ensure that there is fairness to employees, but when it comes to demotion, things work a little differently than when you are fired.
When You Can Be Demoted
In America, and in some parts of the world, most employees are employees at-will, which means that an employer may choose to either demote or discharge you for whatever reason as long as it is not for whistleblowing or discriminatory. This means that even if your employer simply believes you are lacking in your performance in any way, you could certainly be demoted, and with that comes a reduction in pay hours and in pay. It is also at the discretion of your employer to alter your job description, assign you a new set of duties, or even lower your salary in the event that the organization is undergoing a reorganization or in the event that business conditions require human resources to be shuffled around.
Legal Protection Against Demotion
In some cases, you could have protection in the form of a bargaining agreement or maybe even an employment contract, but there is legal protection in some cases as well. The employees who are protected from demotion or discharge are those who have employment contracts in their workplace. Employment contracts are designed to protect employees as they stipulate the work duties, employment role, and the job protections that insulate the employee from specific demotions. With an employment contract, a worker has a recourse to appeal a wrongful demotion. Legally, an employee may not be demoted for any reason relating to gender, race, age, genetic information, or beliefs. They also cannot be demoted in retaliation for filing harassment claims or informing authorities about fraudulent activity in the workplace (whistleblowing).
Appealing Wrongful Demotion
In the instance that an employee is under no legal protection, the employee still can contact the organization’s human resources department. Companies prefer a good reputation and if you feel you re being treated unfairly, the company will usually want to avoid having a negative impact on the employee morale and attend to your pleas. Ensure that when you contact human resources, you maintain a mature and non-defensive tone. If a formal appeal process is in place, request a review of your demotion.
If not, ask for a meeting to discuss your situation. You may also choose to pen an appeal letter, in which you request a reconsideration of your demotion and stipulate your reasons. Using documentation that you may have in the form of emails of praise from superiors, praised performance reviews, documents related to accomplishments in your workplace and similar will all work in your favor in proving that your demotion is not merited. In the event that you suspect your demotion is actually against the law, you could contact an employment attorney or even your Department of Labor for a formal legal opinion.
Explaining a Demotion to Prospective Employers
When you happen to apply for future jobs, you will have to be prepared to acknowledge that you were demoted, whether it was wrongful or not. Fortunately for you, it is not necessary to term it ‘demotion’ in your resume or even in your cover letter. You can just include the new job title and new responsibilities. When typing out your cover letter, emphasize your accomplishments and maintain a positive note, making sure to emphasize what skills and knowledge you have learned from your previous jobs and also to detail what you can offer by filling the position you are applying for. Make sure that whatever you do, you do not badmouth either your company or the managers when you discuss your demotion. It is easier to explain that the job wasn’t a suitable fit. Keeping your tone level and matter-of-fact is best.
It is important to realize that nobody’s career path is a straight line. As long as you are a confident and skilled worker with drive and you perform well, you should survive a demotion and it should not tarnish your CV. How you handle yourself during the demotion and how you handle describing your demotion are important. At the end of the day, your career is in your hands.