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Asking Employees to Undertake Alternative Duties

The BBC recently reported that gift-shop employee Sandra Gilbert had quit her job after being asked to clean the toilets by her employer. In these times of Coronavirus, it is increasingly likely that employers may need to ask employees to undertake different duties; either as a result of changed working practices (such as a need for more frequent cleaning), or as explored in our recent blog, in order to save costs and avoid redundancies. And so how can employers ask employees to undertake different roles without facing a Sandra situation?

  1. Check Contracts and Job Descriptions
    Before asking an employee to do something different, it is worth checking the documentation you have for them first, to see what is and isn’t covered. Many job descriptions will include the wording “any other duties as reasonably required” (or similar), which provides some flexibility, but what is reasonable? This can often depend on how effectively you explain and consult with employees.
  2. Be Clear on Proposed Changes
    With ever-changing government advice, business owners need to implement changes quickly. But where possible it is beneficial for employers to set out proposed changes to employees all together or at least in batches, rather than asking something new every five minutes, so that the changes can be understood and considered. Also, if the proposed changes are fundamental (e.g. changing to completely different working hours or a separate role), then it may be that the employee’s existing role is actually at risk of redundancy, and it is important to manage that process appropriately from the start.
  3. Explain and Consult
    The expression may be overused, but these really are unprecedented times. By explaining to employees why you feel a certain change in their usual duties may be necessary, including the impact on the business’ ability to operate safely and remain financially viable, then employees are more likely to be understanding. Employees may also have views and suggestions themselves; listening to these is valuable, as they may have a good idea or a specific concern that you can address.
  4. Look out for Discrimination Risks
    At such a challenging time for many businesses, if an employee does not agree to a change then it can be easy to become frustrated as a business owner; after all, you are trying to protect everybody’s jobs. However, an employee may have a valid reason for objecting to a change; for example, asking an employee to move from sitting at a checkout to standing at a store door to monitor customer numbers may present a challenge to somebody who has a health condition that means that standing for long periods is difficult. Listening to employee concerns is key to avoiding inadvertent discrimination.

If you are considering asking your employees to undertake different duties, and would like support with the process, please contact a member of the View HR team for an initial discussion.