Can I be forced to take on extra duties?

Our company has decided that they are making the members of our accounts team redundant and transferring the work to a centralised department at our head office. However, they are now saying that they will be passing some of the jobs on to my department. Do we have to accept the changes? How can they say a full department is redundant and then just share out the jobs to different people/departments at the same branch? Surely this means that the job is NOT redundant, and they should be keeping at least one person on to fulfil the role? I would like to know if I can refuse to do the extra duties.

Your query seems to me to cover two issues. The first is whether a redundancy situation can exist where work is effectively transferred from one department to the other. This issue does not appear to directly affect your employment. The second issue is whether, as a result of such a reorganisation, you can be asked to undertake additional and/or varied duties.

Dealing with the first issue, redundancy situations often arise where employers decide that they can reduce the number of employees by transferring work from one department to another, or asking some employees to undertake duties that are currently undertaken by other employees. Provided there is an overall reduction in the number of employees, the dismissal of the employees in the accounts department would satisfy the statutory definition of redundancy. Of course, your employer would have to follow a fair procedure before making the employees in the accounts department redundant and they may have to consider ‘pooling’ those employees with the employees in the central administrative function. In such circumstances your employer would also have to devise fair selection criteria when deciding which employees are to be made redundant.

As to the second issue, the starting point would be to determine whether or not your existing contract of employment contains any provision that enables your employer to request that you undertake similar or additional duties. Most contracts of employment will include such a clause. In these circumstances, if the assumption of additional duties by the employees in your department is not particularly significant, it may be difficult to challenge your employer’s actions.

However, if the additional duties constituted a significant change to your job role then it is unlikely that your contract would entitle your employer to force you to accept such a change. In such circumstances, your employer would be expected to fully consult with you in relation to the proposed change and attempt to obtain your consent to the change. If you refused to agree to such a change then your employer may have the option of terminating your existing contract, on notice, and offering you a new contract with the changed job role. However, if your employer did this you may have a claim for unfair dismissal. 

In order for me to properly advise you in this matter I would need to see your contract of employment and would also need to have a better understanding of the nature of the work you undertook and the proposed additional duties you were being asked to undertake.


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