I received an unexpected email this morning from the head of human resources: “We have reassigned you to the ‘X’ department. Please report to your new manager by 9 a.m. to learn your duties.” The email’s second paragraph said the company wasn’t firing me but eliminating my job. The third paragraph assured me that if I chose to resign, I’d be eligible for rehire and paid for any unused leave.
I quickly realized I needed another cup of coffee. After that, I texted my manager. He didn’t text back. I called him. The line rang 10 times, and I hung up. I emailed him and got an auto-reply explaining he was no longer with the company but wished our company and its customers a profitable year.
I read the email again and called the head of HR. According to the department assistant, the two HR representatives were busy but would call back during the afternoon, and I needed to report to my new manager ASAP.
Can you help? The department I’ve been transferred to isn’t one in which I want to work. Don’t I have any say in this? Is this legal?
Company restructuring and job reassignments are legal — unless you’ve being transferred or demoted for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons or have an employment agreement guaranteeing a specific title and set of duties.
That said, you have options. You may decide to resign and seek a new employer, or you might be able to negotiate a different assignment. Alternatively, you may decide to make the best of this, given that job opportunities aren’t as robust as they were last year or even six months ago.
Before you take any action, learn the reasoning behind your reassignment by speaking with your new manager and HR. Ask if this change is strategy-driven. If so, ask for more information about the direction in which your company is heading. Your company may have restructured to better adapt to a changing marketplace and reassigned you rather than laid you off because they highly value you.
Ask questions to clarify your new responsibilities and whether your company intends to provide you with training or other resources, so you’ll succeed and become an even more valuable contributor. Ask also whether you can negotiate a different reassignment. Although most of your answers will come from within your company, you may be able to reach out to your former manager via LinkedIn or a personal cell. He may have been privy to discussions over the last several weeks.
Remain positive and professional in these discussions. Although you didn’t choose this new role, it might actually strengthen your career in the long term. Learn as much as you can so you can figure out how to succeed in your new job and how to work your way into a position you want.
You may, however, uncover something worse. Some companies transfer employees into job purgatory in hopes they will resign. This strategy avoids termination lawsuits and severance payouts. Signals this has happened include being reassigned into a position far below your current pay and skill level, or into a division rumored to be on the chopping block, or being given an option to relocate at your own expense. If you learn you’ve been “put out to pasture,” you may want a second cup of coffee as you launch your job search.
Finally, because this change came suddenly, take a day to assess what it means to you before you act.