Will Moving Office Make Me Redundant?

Where you work is as much part of your terms and conditions of employment, as what work you do and how much you get paid. So if your boss asks you to move to another location, does that mean your old role is now redundant?

This can be relevant for you if payment of redundancy compensation hangs on the issue. You only get a payout if you are redundant (and there is no technical redundancy clause).

The answer to this question turns on what we mean by “redundancy”.

WHAT IS A REDUNDANCY?

A position in a business is redundant when something happens to stop it from carrying on.

I am referring to the position, because only positions can be redundant.

The people in the positions may change.

For example, Jim may be the mailroom clerk this week, and Mary next week if Jim resigns. But the position of mailroom clerk remains, regardless of who carries it out – until it becomes redundant.

If the position of mailroom clerk is no longer needed, Mary may go on to carry out a different role, such as CEO. The role has gone from the business, but Mary hasn’t.

So what stops a position from carrying on? Two possibilities:

  • The position loses all its duties. A business may no longer need mail delivered because its staff correspond by email. If mail delivery stops, the function of mailroom clerk loses its duties if that was all that role did. It is an empty position, unnecessary, redundant. The same thing can happen when the duties pass to another position.
  • The position changes its essential duties. Imagine the mailroom clerk stops delivering physical mail. The focus in the business is now on email. So the business asks the mailroom clerk to help staff who have problems receiving email. The role may have the same title, but the essential work of that role is no longer what it once was. The old mailroom clerk role has gone – it is redundant. But a new position, also called mailroom clerk (but better described as IT person), has sprung up in its place.

The second category is sometimes hard to identify. When have the essential duties changed such that it is no longer the role it once was?

A 20-percent change to an employee’s role may be a useful guide but is not determinative. Decisions of the Employment Relations Authority and Employment Court are our best guide.

HOW FAR IS TOO FAR?

A change in job location can be a change in the essential duties of a role giving rise to a redundancy of that role.

That’s because when you sign up to a job, you expect to continue doing the work in the place where you started. Your boss does have the right to move your role from one site to another but only if it is not a significant move.

If the move is significant, the role’s essential duties have changed. Those duties were initially expected to be performed as Site A. To ask them to be performed at a significantly different place, Site B, means you can say the role at the old site is redundant and the role at the new site is a new role.

So what amounts to a significant change in location that will give rise to a change in roles?

You might as well ask “How long is a piece of string?” It’s the sort of thing you know when you see it. But here are two examples from cases decided by the Authority and the Court that give you a sense of what significant change does or does not look like:

  • A move from Mt Roskill, Auckland to Wiri, Manukau was not considered a significant change. The duties of the role were still within the same labour market, being the greater Auckland area. There was no redundancy.
  • A move from Petone to Featherson was a significant change, it being a 50-km trip. That meant the relocated role was a different role. The role in Petone was redundant.

CONCLUSION

If you’re asked to move location for your work, it is possible that your role is redundant. It will depend on the extent of the change.

If you are moving within the same labour market, where it is not unreasonable to commute within to get to and from work, then its unlikely the change is significant enough.

But note that even if you can show your role is redundant, you still need to consider what your employment agreement says. If it allows your employer to move your role, or includes a technical redundancy clause, you may not be redundant after all.