How to Handle a Wrongful Demotion

What to Do if You've Been Wrongfully Demoted

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Have you been demoted at work? Do you believe that your demotion shouldn't have happened? Were you unfairly demoted from your job? What can you do? Unfortunately, your options for handling a wrongful demotion may be limited. 

When Employees Can be Demoted

Most workers are employed at will. This means that your employer can discharge you or demote you for any reason other than discrimination or whistle blowing.

So if your employer believes that your performance is lacking in any way, you can be demoted, and your pay or hours can be reduced.

Your employer also has the ability to change your job description, assign new work duties, and lower your pay if they are reorganizing the workforce or if business conditions dictate a shifting of human resources.

In some circumstances, you may be protected by a bargaining agreement or employment contract which provide protection for employees. Also, there are legal protections which cover wrongful demotions.

Employees Protected from Being Demoted

Workers with employment contracts that stipulate work roles and job protections may be insulated against certain demotions or may have recourse to appeal a demotion.

Employees cannot be demoted because of race, gender, age, religious beliefs, and often sexual orientation. Employees can't be demoted as retaliation for filing a sexual harassment claim or because they informed authorities about an illegal action by their organization.

Appealing an Unfair or Unlawful Demotion

Even where no legal protections exist, you can contact the human resources department at your organization if you believe that you are being unjustly treated. Companies often want to avoid seemingly unfair demotions given the potential negative impact on employee morale.

When you speak with human resources, keep your tone mature and non-defensive. If there is a formal appeal process, request a review of your demotion. If there isn't, ask for a meeting to discuss your circumstances. Another option is to write an appeal letter asking for the decision to demote you to be reconsidered. Use documentation, such as emails with praise, positive performance reviews, and details about major accomplishments, to show that the demotion is not merited, and will ultimately work against the company's long-term goals.

If you believe that your demotion might be illegal, you have the option of consulting an employment attorney or your state Department of Labor to obtain a formal legal opinion.

How to Explain a Demotion to Prospective Employers

Whether your demotion was wrongful or not, when you apply for future jobs, you will need to be prepared to acknowledge the situation. Fortunately, there is no need to use the word "demotion" on your resume or within a cover letter. On your resume, you can simply include  the new job title, along with any responsibilities. 

Within your cover letter, you can emphasize any particular skills or accomplishments from the lower level role.

Find more tips for explaining a demotion in a cover letter and resume

A demotion may also come up in an interview; be prepared to discuss the circumstances. Do not bash the company or managers in your response. One of the simplest ways to explain what happened is to describe the job as not being a good fit. Keep your tone matter-of-fact and emphasize any positive outcomes that may have occurred as a result, such as learning new skills or taking a class to strengthen your abilities.

As with questions about your biggest weakness, you can use this as an opportunity to discuss how you've transformed and improved as a result. See more tips for how to respond to interview questions about a demotion.

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