Being demoted can be demoralizing. In some cases, a demotion may be illegal. If you believe that you were demoted for an unlawful reason, you need to understand your legal rights. You may have been demoted or passed over for a job at your work more than once. If the reason for your demotion was retaliation for you engaging in a protected activity or was discriminatory based on your protected status, the demotion is illegal under both state and federal laws. If this happened in your case, getting help from the experienced employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler may help you to hold your employer accountable for its unlawful actions and to secure damages to compensate you for your losses.
When can employees be demoted?
A majority of workers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are considered to be at-will employees. This means that you can be fired or demoted at any time by your employer and for nearly any reason. However, there are some exceptions to this rule for whistleblowing, retaliation, and discrimination.
Employers that believe that the performance of employees is substandard in any way can demote them or reduce their hours and pay. Employers are also allowed to change the job descriptions of their employees, assign them new work duties, and lower their pay when the changes are necessary for business reasons or when they are reorganizing the workforce at their companies.
If you work under a collective bargaining agreement or an individual employment contract, you may have protection from a demotion. There are also state and federal protections that apply to wrongful demotions.
People who work under employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements may have stipulations that protect them from certain types of demotions or that provide the ability to appeal demotions.
Laws also prohibit employers from demoting workers based on protected characteristics, including race, color, gender, national origin, age, religion, and genetic information. The laws likewise prohibit employers from retaliating against workers and demoting them because they engaged in a protected activity. Some examples of protected activities include the following:
- Serving on a jury
- Reporting unlawful conduct by the employer to the government
- Participating in an investigation of the employer
by a government agency
- Taking FMLA leave
- Performing military service
If your demotion was illegal, you might be able to appeal it within your company. You can try talking to the Human Resources department at your company about what occurred. You can file a written complaint about your demotion if it involved harassment, discrimination, retaliation, or unfair treatment. The Human Resources department should then investigate your complaint. In some cases, businesses reverse demotions when they are concerned about the potential negative impacts they might face.
Appealing the demotion
Before you hire an attorney and talk about the unfairness of your demotion on social media, it is often possible for a demotion to be handled internally by the Human Resources department. Submit a written complaint that details what happened and why you believe that it was unlawful. An investigation should then occur. There may be a formal process for appealing a demotion that might include interviews, reviews, and other things. An investigation may take some time.
When you talk to the Human Resources department, make sure to be polite and non-defensive. If your company has a formal process for appeals, ask for your demotion to be reviewed. If there is not a formal process, request a meeting to talk about what occurred. Save all of the documentation that you have, including copies of your appeal letter, positive performance reviews, emails, information about significant accomplishments, and other correspondence. You can use the documentation that you have to demonstrate that your demotion was not warranted. If you believe that your demotion was illegal, you may want to consult with an employment law attorney at Swartz Swidler.
Explaining a demotion to a prospective employer
A demotion from your past employer can hurt you when you apply for jobs regardless of whether it was lawful or not. You should be prepared to talk about what happened. You do not need to say that you were demoted on your resume or in a cover letter. However, prospective employers may ask you about why your pay or job responsibilities were reduced.
Emphasize your skills and accomplishments in your cover letter. Remain positive and stress what you have learned from working at your previous jobs and what you can offer to the role for which you are interviewing. You can simply say that the position from which you were demoted was not a good fit. Emphasize the positive outcomes that you may have experienced from the new role, such as taking classes or learning new skills.
You should also ask your colleagues and connections for recommendations. When people vouch for your abilities and skills, their recommendations can help during the interview process.
What to do if your demotion was wrongful
If you were wrongfully demoted for an unlawful reason, you should schedule a consultation with the attorneys at Swartz Swidler. We can analyze what occurred and explain any legal options that you may have. If we agree to take your case, we can help you to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a civil complaint in court. Discrimination and harassment complaints must be filed with the EEOC or a corresponding state agency. Retaliation complaints can be directly filed in state or federal court. By pursuing a claim against your employer, you may be able to recover damages to compensate you for the losses that you have suffered because of your employer’s wrongful actions. Contact the employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler today by calling 856.685.7420 or by submitting your contact information on our online contact form.