Is My Reclassification Fair?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about reclassified to represented:

I work for a large Fortune 100 company in the Atlanta area. The company is comprised of both management and represented (union) employees. The represented employees amount to nearly 70% of the workforce. Out of that number, I am uncertain as to how many employees actually pay dues and would be considered full union employees. My work group was brought into the main organization in at the first of this year from another, separate organization. We were, and always had been, management employees.

A year ago, we were told that our group would be reclassified to represented. Of course, this did not go over well. In addition being demoralized, we were going to lose our annual bonus (except for the 2.5 months worked), not eligible to buy additional vacation (some of us had already done so based upon planned activities), also our benefits would change–we no longer would have to pay for benefits, but we had no choice as to what we were to receive. (I had intentionally selected a PPO plan but had to give that up). 401k plans were switched in accordance with what is offered to represented employees.

Basically, we got screwed, if you’ll pardon the expression. The reason given for this change was that HR came to evaluate our jobs and decided (after only a day or two of observation) that our jobs matched some other represented jobs in the company. Supposedly “they” (our mgt.) fought against this, but it happened anyway. I cannot understand why someone high enough could not have simply said “no”. I’ve finally come to accept this situation and have been actively seeking other employment.I have noticed something that seems wrong. The company has been hiring temporary workers, rather than permanent. I have noticed that the temp jobs for our group are labeled, Project Manager, level 1. Note: this is for the same job we are all currently doing. What I question is that if the position, be it temporary or permanent, can be classified as a Project Manager, which is a management level position, why is it that we are not reclassified? Is this something we have control of or question?

I can tell you that our immediate management, while sympathetic at times to the fact that we were reclassified, have not made any effort to fight for management status for us.I tend to think that my best bet is to continue trying to seek other opportunities, but I can’t help but feel that our present situation can somehow be bettered. Any advice and/or suggestions would be much appreciated.

Signed, Reclassified

Dear Reclassified:

Your question is one that seems to us to indicate a need for a consultation–usually free for the first time–with an attorney who specializes in labor law issues. An employer can reclassify as long as no individual or group is targeted in a way that is discriminatory. Often reclassification is done to save money–but recently it has been done as a way to determine exempt and non-exempt employees for Federal Labor Standards Act purposes, or to restructure as a business move related to all kinds of issues that make sense to many–but not to those effected as you and others have been. (As you have discovered–sometimes HR staff, lawyers and others–in their roles as advisers–seem to have more clout than company executives.)

The issues in question would relate to the written understanding you had when your part of the organization was brought into the main organization–and the impact the reclassification has had in relation to that and to changing your benefits. Also, there might be a way to more forcefully question the reclassification since it appears to be punitive.

I researched this in several ways and also talked to the HR director of a very large multinational company who is an attorney. She said there were so many issues involved with reclassification that you would need to discuss more of the details with someone who is knowledgeable about employment law. That wasn’t a great deal of help!I specifically checked about the temp hiring, given that they are being hired at a position that would be considered management. She said that could be for a variety of reasons–usually to do with the temp company titles and wage levels rather than the contracting company. She didn’t seem to feel there was any help for you from that fact—since law regulates neither titles nor compensation for specific titles. So, here’s my suggestion. If you can, get a free consultation with an attorney–perhaps by phone or email–do so. That will at least give you an idea of whether or not there is any legal recourse.

At the same time, if you have any managers who are sympathetic to your issues and would be willing to question the reclassification based on the temp worker matter–craft a sample letter to HR questioning that situation and requesting clarification about what work factors resulted in the reclassification. Then, ask the sympathetic manager to tweak it to his or her own style and send it. If you do the major work, perhaps they’d be more likely to help. The one thing that would keep them from helping would be if they are done with it in their own minds and are tired of hearing about it. That’s a decision you’ll have to make.You say that now you are considered a represented employee. If you ARE in fact, represented by an employee organization now, consider asking them for assistance. That would be rather a bizarre twist–but might be useful. Probably not–but it wouldn’t hurt to try. You didn’t say how many of you there are or if the entire group feels the same way. If you have others who would agree to write their own letters to management requesting another audit, that might be helpful.

Management is usually the lowest level group that can request an audit, so the letters expressing concern should go to them. Be prepared for the same result though. A study by some labor group several years back–I can’t provide a reference, I just remember reading it–found that about half of all workers on the cusp of management positions (not solidly management but doing tasks that went past other work) were over-classified. That may be the opinion of HR in your work–whether they are right or wrong. I will tell you from my own experience that many of the people who do classification seem to not be very skillful at asking the right questions or looking for the right things, to determine classification. It’s as though they’ve decided ahead of time and they just spend the day observing, and then write what they want! And employees can damage themselves by showing how hard they work–but not demonstrating the work that is required for a management classification.

There is a skill to being audited, too! I think you are wise to seek another position. Not only because of the reclassification but also because of the way you feel about the situation there. You could work through this–as I’m sure you will, if you think there are no other options. But if you have been effective in a position that seems to you to have been diminished, you’ll never feel as good about work or the company, as you’d like. In cases like this, it’s not only the actual situation; it’s the comparative aspect of it that is so frustrating. Someone applying for a job like yours in your company today might think it a great move for them–but they won’t have anything else for comparison. You have a former situation to which you will make comparisons for a long time to come. You may find advantages to the new situation–but you may not. And likely there will be other issues, such as the one with the temp workers that will add fresh irritation.

You need to be satisfied and with a reasonable feeling of contentment. If you can find it there–fine. If not, you are wise to look around and find another place that will see your knowledge and skills at the level you need for a good feeling about yourself and work. I hope my thoughts will have provided something that will assist you as you think about this situation. Striving for a best place to work, a workplace that treats all with respect, takes smarts and persistence. Think WEGO and strive for it.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.