Can my job be changed: ask the expert

I started a dental practice as a receptionist / PA to dentist and slowly built up a successful business over eight years. Last year my boss employed a full-time practice manager. I work 2 days. She works from home on those days, Meanwhile a dental nurse is about to go on maternity leave and I have been told my role as receptionist/administrator is changing to become a dental nurse and my hours increased. As I once trained in nursing and the practice manager cannot work in this role I feel I have lost the job I’ve so enjoyed. Who is to say the dental nurse will return from maternity leave and what happens when she does? Do I get my original job back? My contract has never been signed and my boss took it away prior to asking me to become a dental nurse to revise it… I do not enjoy dental nursing, but I have kept my General Dental Council registration as I am then free to always help out at holiday time or sickness cover… Where do I stand?

Thanks for your query. There are a few issues here so let’s unpick it a bit.

Most contracts of employment will contain a flexibility clause that allows an employer to vary your duties. However this has to be reasonable, and isn’t a carte blanche to give you a completely different job! So the varied duties should still be within the remit of your existing job role. I would say that a change from a clerical role to a medical one is unacceptable – that is like asking an accountant to become a builder or something. Even if you have done that kind of work in the past, that still doesn’t make it reasonable (especially when that was a long time ago). So you have every right to challenge this, and I would say you have a strong case.

You said your contract has never been signed and your boss took it away to revise it. Neither of those things make a difference! Legally speaking, your contract is the agreement/arrangement that you have with your employer – it’s not a piece of paper. You are entitled to have the main terms and conditions of that contract confirmed to you in writing, but the contract still exists and is valid regardless of whether the written document has signatures on or is in your possession. Your employer can’t make changes to your basic terms and conditions of employment – such as job role, hours, salary etc. – without proper consultation with you, as this constitutes a unilateral change to your contract. If they no longer need you (or anyone else) to be in the PA/receptionist role, even if just for 9 months, then this sounds to me like a redundancy situation – i.e. there is no longer a need for that work to be done. This means you have redundancy rights. You are entitled to a redundancy package, and your employer has to explore possible redeployment options (such as an alternative role as a dental nurse.) However, you are not obliged to accept the redeployment role, and even if you do, you are entitled to do this on a 4-week trial period, during which time you can still change your mind and opt for the redundancy package instead.

You asked about getting your old job back if the person you are covering for comes back. Again, if they genuinely don’t have a need for the work you were originally doing, this would be a redundancy situation and you would have redundancy entitlements. But if there is still a need for a PA/receptionist (and it seems very strange to me that they think they can manage without one just for 9 months!) then there is no reason for them not to put you back into that role.

My advice would be to put in a formal grievance explaining not only why you are not happy about this, but also detailing your legal position as you understand it. Many small employers are quite clueless about employment legislation and often don’t realise that what they are doing is unlawful! So you could suggest that your boss gets some external professional advice to make sure they are doing the right thing. Hopefully this can then be resolved amicably, but if not, you would have recourse to a tribunal if you wanted to make a claim for breach of contract and failure to follow redundancy legislation. Good luck!

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