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I'm being demoted. Can I ask for severance?

Unhappy business woman at a computer.

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The question

I am currently a vice-president of sales at a manufacturing company and think that I may be demoted as we hire another sales employee. Do I have a legal right to ask for a severance instead?

The answer

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A "constructive dismissal" is the term used when an employer imposes a fundamental change to an employee's job, without providing notice or obtaining consent. The change must be considered a substantial departure from the employee's previous job, such as a change affecting the employee's responsibilities, status, geographical location or compensation. If the change is viewed as a "constructive dismissal," the employee can leave the job and sue for damages. How much is recovered is a function of the employee's length of service, age, position and salary.

Now, to you. Since there is no legal right to demote you to a lesser position, you should ask for severance, but do it carefully. Here are some do's and don'ts:

Do not assume that any demotion leads to severance. You have to show that your new position is a drastic departure from your old one.

Do not just pick up and leave. You may be viewed as resigning.

Do not demand severance through an ultimatum.

Do protest the change. Otherwise, you will eventually be viewed as condoning it.

Most importantly, speak to an employment lawyer before doing anything. Constructive dismissals are tricky. Get good advice.

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Daniel Lublin is a nationally recognized workplace law expert and a partner at Whitten & Lublin. Follow him on Twitter: @danlublin

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About the Author
Globe Careers employment law expert

Daniel is a nationally recognized workplace law expert and a partner at Whitten & Lublin (, where he represents both individual and corporate clients. Daniel frequently writes and appears in the media as a commentator for workplace legal issues. Since 2008, he has been named as one of Canada's top employment lawyers. More

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