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The Question
I sell and renew memberships for a large association. Last year I had several hundred members to look after and my membership total (after renewals, cancellations, new sales, and those that went out of business) ended up being one fewer than the year before. My dollars were up in all categories (new business, renewal business) and I completed all processes required. Now my sales manager has reduced my selling territory by 33 per cent. Is this ethical? Is this fair? I am no longer able to earn the income that I was earning before and therefore, is this tantamount to constructive dismissal, or a way of getting me to leave against my wishes? What legal rights, if any, do I have? What would you do?

The First Answer

Colleen Clarke
Corporate trainer, career specialist and columnist

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One can only hope this move was not made to harm you but possibly to reconfigure the business. This could be a situation for constructive dismissal or the organization may want you to build up the territory you are left with, knowing there is potential and you are the star to do it. If your salary isn't compromised this could be an opportunity to show what you are made of. If you will be receiving less pay for less work they could be firing you. They could be forcing you to quit and if you quit you won't receive a severance package. More information is necessary to answer your questions; this is not a black and white scenario.

Check with your boss and ask what you are getting in return for what has been taken away. Ask if your salary stays the same even though your territory is smaller. If not, ask that they guarantee the same salary for six months, to give you time to build up your remaining territory. Check with an employment lawyer, not your neighbor's cousin's uncle who is a real estate lawyer. When there is a unilateral change in fundamental terms of employment, salary being one of the many terms, you may have a case should you choose to go the legal route. Changing a person's ability to generate income by 10% is one thing, by 33%, there may be cause to take legal action.

An employment lawyer will educate you as to your rights and options so you can bring them forward to Human Resources in a constructive manner. You will want to know if you are eligible for termination or severance pay.

It sounds like you are flummoxed as to why this has happened to you. Talk to your boss and find out as many answers to your questions as possible. You will need some answers before you meet with the lawyer. All may be right with the world, you just didn't know the end of the story.

The Second Answer

Daniel Lublin
Employment lawyer, Whitten & Lublin, Toronto

An employer cannot make changes to your job that have the end result of significantly reducing your responsibilities or compensation. Otherwise, it may amount to a constructive dismissal. , meaning you can consider yourself terminated because of changes and sue for severance.

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While reducing your sales territory by 33% may seem like a large difference, the real issue is how it will actually impact your duties and pay, not how you perceive it will affect you. The courts require objective proof in order to successfully make out a constructive dismissal claim. In your case, the "proof" would likely consist of demonstrating that the smaller sales territory resulted in much smaller commissions. , so you may have to stay there for enough time to clearly determine how your pay is actually being affected. During this time, you can protest the changes to your manager, human resources or a senior manager and ask that the company restore your full sales territory.

Once you can show that your income is clearly less than before (and this requires more than a minor reduction) and assuming the company will not reinstate your full sales territory, you may be in a position to leave and advance a legal claim. Before doing anything, get specific advice from a lawyer.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the First Answer to Eileen Dooley. It, in fact, was written by Colleen Clarke.

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