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Feel free to alter jobs to suit business needs

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employers have the right to meet business needs by changing the jobs their employees do, and they can set the minimum qualifications for any new positions they create. It’s the company’s prerogative to then decide whether to replace existing employees with others who meet the requirements.

Recent case: James Fonteneaux, who is black, worked for Shell as a strategic relations manager (SRM). Fonteneaux complained when he was passed over for a promotion.

Shell then decided to replace all the SRM positions with strategic relations account manager positions (SRAM). The new positions required 10 to 15 years of external sales experience. None of the existing SRMs, including Fonteneaux, had that much sales experience, and the company filled all the SRAM positions except one with external hires.

Shell notified the SRMs that they had not been selected for the SRAM positions. It gave the passed-over SRMs a list of job vacancies within Shell and offered them a severance package.

Fonteneaux complained that race and age discrimination were the reasons he had not been not selected for a SRAM position. He refused the severance package. When he did not land another Shell job, the company terminated him.

Fonteneaux filed suit, alleging Shell discriminated against him on the basis of his race and age when he was not selected for a SRAM position, and retaliated against him because it terminated him five months after he first complained of discrimination.

Fonteneaux argued that despite his lack of external sales experience, he was qualified for the job.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his argument. It held that “substantial weight is given to an employer’s decision on necessary credentials.” (Fonteneaux v. Shell Oil Co., No. 08-20037, 5th Cir., 2008)

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