Documenting and Communicating Demotions

Posted on: December 14, 2020
In: Labor & Employment

By: Anne M. Turner

Proper documentation and communication of demotions are essential to ensuring your employees have a clear understanding of their job duties and company expectations. Taking steps to document these changes in the employment relationship will also help identify any deviations from company policy or gaps in progressive discipline that should be addressed to protect against future litigation. The steps described in this post are best practices to aid you in documenting and communicating demotions. 

Document the Decision 

Once you determine a demotion is necessary, you will need to document the decision. Important here will be identification of the employee(s) affected, the reasons for the demotion, and the effects of the demotion. 

First, employers should be prepared to identify not just the employee facing the demotion, but also other employees whose job duties may be affected due to redistribution of job duties or changes in the chain of command. 

Next, identify the reasons for the demotion. This may include performance issues, disciplinary actions, internal reorganization, or changes in your business model that result in the demotion. Any personnel policies relied upon should be detailed, as well as prior progressive discipline. If the demotion was the result of a performance issue, efforts to counsel or retrain the employee should be documented. If no efforts to counsel, train, or use progressive discipline were employed, be prepared to explain why a demotion is the appropriate course of action. 

To the extent that the demotion was necessitated by changes in your business model, it will be important to note why the employee is no longer qualified for the position and what efforts, if any, were made for the employee to keep their position. For example, if the employee could have remained in their position with an additional certification, you should record whether the employee was provided with the opportunity to obtain the certification. If the employee was not afforded the opportunity, note the reasons why, such as resource or time prohibitions. 

Difficulty documenting the grounds for the demotion may be an early indicator that appropriate steps have not been taken. If you cannot explain the reasons for the demotion now, consider what additional steps may be taken to best conform with company policy. 

Finally, document the effects of the demotion. Changes to the employee’s title and compensation must be documented and retained in their personnel file, as well as the effective date for these changes. Equally important will be the employee’s new job duties and how the employee’s former job duties will be redistributed. The responsibilities of the employee in their new role should be clearly laid out in a document that can be provided to the employee and placed in their employment file. 

Communicate the Decision

Now that you have documented the demotion, it’s time to discuss these points with the affected employee(s). In addition to the details of the demotion, you should ensure that the employee understands the company’s expectations moving forward. This will be key to continuing the employment relationship. When demotions are the result of performance deficiencies or disciplinary actions, ensuring the company and the employee have a clear understanding of the employee’s new role and responsibilities will create a foundation for subsequent evaluations. As discussed above, providing a written record of the employee’s responsibilities moving forward will be particularly helpful. 

Document the Communication 

Finally, once you have spoken with the affected employee(s), take a few minutes to create a record of the communication, including who was involved in making the decision, who discussed the demotion with the employee, what was discussed, and the employee’s response. In the event of future litigation, this will help identify the relevant dates and witnesses. Like all important personnel documentation, this record should include the name of the author and the date it was created. 

For further guidance, please see our previous post, “Three Steps to Creating Essential Employment Documentation.”

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