HR BLOG: Are you aware of the risks surrounding promotions and demotions?

Promotions in the workplace should be positive. They create new and exciting opportunities for employees and the businesses that they work for.

They are however, like all aspects of people management, subject to complications. Are you aware of the risks involved when promoting an employee?

Too often employers promote someone because they are really good in their current role, but it then turns out without the necessary skill set for the new role. The result is that the phrase “promoted to their level of incompetence” is all too often heard.

A lack of clarity about the knowledge and skills needed, for example, can lead to a newly promoted employee struggling in their role. Meanwhile, a disgruntled co-worker who feels they have been overlooked could be seeking to make a claim for discrimination.

Best practice HR can reduce these situations from happening and see promotions lead to great success for both an individual and the wider business.

Watch out for indirect discrimination during hybrid or home working

When you promote an employee, you may well come across some naysayers questioning your decision, especially from those who feel that they too deserve to be promoted.

You should be able to justify your decision to avoid complications and claims of discrimination.

It is thought that the recent rise in hybrid and home working has also increased a risk of indirect discrimination. The Office for National Statistics found that homeworkers were promoted less frequently than office-based workers from 2012 to 2017.

Indirect discrimination occurs when rules or arrangements apply to a group of employees, but in practice are less fair to some. So, if you’re promoting your office-based staff, make sure there is a justifiable reason for doing so to avoid HR issues.

This also highlights the importance of good communication, fair processes and access when managing a hybrid workforce.

Watch out when restructuring your team

As the end of the furlough scheme draws closer, many employers are faced with making important staffing changes and may need to consider an organisational restructure. Depending on the needs of the business, this could lead to promotions and at the other end of the scale, redundancies.

As part of a redundancy consultation, looking for an alternative role is crucial. Sometimes the only alternative is a more junior role which is effectively a demotion. However, when the alternative is redundancy, the employee may feel this is acceptable.

A costly case of demotion

When contacting her employer (UK Research and Innovation) to discuss her return to work from maternity leave, Dr. Katie Lidster was told it would not be appropriate to return to her previous role. In fact, they told her it no longer existed and offered a role with fewer responsibilities over fewer days than her previous one – effectively demoting her.

However it transpires that her role did exist, bar one additional word in the job description and one new responsibility which Dr Lidster had been doing. The job was being advertised internally. It was eventually given to the claimant’s maternity cover.

Dr Lidster, who had suffered PTSD and anxiety following the traumatic birth of her child, resigned and raised an employment tribunal claim. The judge ruled the employer pay out £23,000 plus interest, highlighting the employer’s knowledge of the claimant’s mental health during her maternity leave.

If you are working through a restructure, it’s a good idea to seek professional HR advice to avoid costly mistakes that result in a tribunal.

A promotion policy can help

Whilst your reasoning for promoting an employee should be enough, having clear job descriptions; performance management records; and a promotion policy, which details how, why and when promotions occur in your business, can offer that extra bit of protection should a situation turn sour.

If you need advice about promotion, or a restructure in general, don’t forget that we are here to help.