This article is the second instalment of a 2-part series looking at Job classification and Progression
Setting correct and appropriate wages through job classification structures is not an entirely objective task. Different employers will have different views on the value and level where certain jobs lie. Because of this, employees looking to move up the classification structure can find this process difficult.
Issues arise because job classification structures do not consider the skill level and ability of the person currently in that position, as much as they look at the skills and abilities NEEDED. Part 2 of the series identifies some key issues when making a claim for reclassification.
Work intensity or extended hours
Conscientious and intensive attention to the job and/or extended hours by an experienced employee means higher quality work and greater productivity. Unfortunately, Commonwealth case law does not consider work intensity or reasonable extended hours as ‘work value’ – they are considered staffing issues.
That said, an employee can still base their reclassification case upon these two factors. Any line manager will know hiring and training new staff is usually more expensive than awarding a higher salary. A line manager will often calculate extra attention to the job and reasonable extended hours by an experienced and valued employee means higher quality and greater production than would be available from a new hire.
Another issue is classifications are determined by what the employee does in their job, not what they are qualified to do or can do if given the opportunity. Because salaries are tied to classification structures, an employee with skills and attributes to perform at a higher level is ONLY entitled to a classification and salary determined by the level their job.
The status quo justifies itself
In Australia’s Industrial Relations system, he who wants to change the status quo must justify the change i.e. the status quo principle. Under this principle, if an employee has worked at a certain salary for a period, then that salary seen as appropriate for all their skills, job knowledge, responsibilities and other work value factors.
So, if there has been no change to the employee’s job, it may be very difficult for the incumbent employee to justify a higher grade.
In some instances, an increase in work value factors might not be enough to justify a reclassification. The increase in work value must be sufficiently substantial to justify a move up the job classification structure.
Out-of-date Position Descriptions (PDs)
Owing to job roles being dynamic, positions descriptions constantly evolve and change resulting in PDs frequently being out of date.
Unless a system of regular reviews (such as annual performance or development meetings) are in place, an employee must take the initiative and actively pursue a regular PD review.
What else can affect my reclassification claim?
Employers believe a uniform approach to job classification is conducive to stable industrial relations and therefore, a stable workforce. Through a consistent structure, an employer aims to convey why certain employees receive one level and other employees receive a different level.
It’s often said that human beings are more concerned about where they sit in the hierarchy than their salary. To many, this is an indication of how successful they are at work and perhaps in their career.
Employees will tend to look at where colleagues and peers sit in the hierarchy and if some-one they relate to gets a reclassification or a promotion, they will often look to see why this occurred and how this was justified.
Another aspect is internal organisational politics. If an employee seeking reclassification is friendly with his manager, would there be a better prospect of success than if the reverse was the case?
In many cases, that employee seeking reclassification is obviously in a far better position especially if the manager is prepared to ‘champion’ their cause with active support.
In a tight labour market, the urgent need to attract or retain an employee in high demand may result in an employer manipulating the system to try to justify a reclassification.
If an employee has unique skills, similar manipulations may occur because their loss could damage the employer’s business.
Awards, enterprise agreements and other industrial instruments generally have a salary structure tied to work value factors such as skills required by and responsibilities imposed on the positions/roles envisaged.
It is the skills and work abilities required by the position which are usually relevant when assessing work value, not the skills and abilities of the position incumbent. There are exceptions where an employer wants flexibility, and is prepared to pay employees for higher order skills even though these may neither be required by the position description nor be utilised very often.
Having regard for the ‘status quo’ principle, a claim for reclassification needs to be justified through a change in circumstances involving higher order skills, responsibilities or other work value factors.
Employees should ensure their position descriptions are up to date and reflect their changing circumstances, particularly if these changes demonstrate an increase in the relevant work value factors and their contribution to the well-being of the organisation.
Don Moss, Senior Industrial Officer, Professionals Australia
This publication is general information only and is not intended to be used as legal advice or a substitute for legal advice.