This is my first question ever on here so bear with me if it's not 100% correct...

I'm in a position at work where I may be offered a promotion in the next few weeks. If I take it my workload will almost certainly double, I'll be on call 24/7 (now it's one week a month). There'll be hardly any pay increase plus any kind of failures or system issues will be put at my feet, whether it's mine (or the team) fault or not. We're understaffed and totally demotivated. The team are computer engineers.

My first thought was to ask for a pay rise so ridiculous they'd just discard the offer. On the off-chance they'd accept it I'd be $$$ loaded, save up for a few months while I look for something else. But I'd rather not have it. If it were offered to me and I politely declined, can my boss call me up on any kind of policy or protocol breach? There's no obligation to accept a promotion, correct?

For reference, this is in the US. The main company is in California, I work in a division based out of Nebraska.

Edit - due to people thinking I'm asking about how to decline a promotion, I'm not. I'm interested in "does my company have recourse to take HR action against me". I'm not worried about boss vindication or how I'd go about saying no. It's can they take me to HR for saying no (politely, of course).

2nd edit - "Can they take me to HR for refusing a promotion" is the question. It is not a duplicate.

  • 1
    Also: I don't want a promotion
    – David K
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 18:53
  • Not quite - I'm asking about can I be penalized for turning one down, not how to turn it down. Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 18:54
  • A promotion that leads to doubled workload is hardly a promotion, unless your new title is "Computer Engineer x2"
    – user7230
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 19:01
  • "We're understaffed and totally demotivated." Why aren't you looking for a better position right now? Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:50
  • Also no one can be on call 24/7. That's completely impossible. But it sounds like this is a good time to press for change. They need you, and should be willing to listen to your suggestions. Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:52

3 Answers 3


I'm interested in "does my company have recourse to take HR action against me".

Technically speaking, yes, most likely. Unless you have some form of employment contract in place that specifies your duties and the terms under which they can be modified, your employer can technically move you anyplace they want. In most states, your employment is "at will." You can be terminated for any reason, or no reason at all. The only thing really impacted is whether or not you'd be able to collect unemployment benefits when you left (unemployment offices tend to look unfavorably on folks that voluntarily terminate their employment unless there are extenuating circumstances). They can certainly tell you to take on other duties and let you go if you refuse. They can let you go just because they don't like you. As long as they aren't discriminating against a protected class (eg. terminating you or treating you differently due to race, gender, sexual preference, etc.) or asking you to do something illegal, they can demand whatever they want.

There is generally nothing that prevents your employer from saying, "Tomorrow when you get here, get a broom. You've been transferred to the maintenance staff," or, conversely, "Please wear a suit. You are now in charge of the department. Your new title is X, and your pay is Y. Make sure you are here on time." If business needs dictate that you be moved, you are up a creek. Most job descriptions also include an "Other duties as assigned..." clause in them. Just because you turn the promotion down doesn't mean they can't assign you the work.

That all being said, most employers will respect an individual that turns down a promotion because the employee feels it is not the right fit. Employees that are unhappy in their positions are neither productive nor loyal. If your employer forces you into a role you aren't comfortable with and don't want, then they really aren't concerned with retaining you - especially if they aren't willing to make it worth your while financially.

  • Good answer, technically yes, in reality probably no
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 21:33
  • I'm no lawyer so this isn't legal advice but bare in mind there are some protections granted by the original job description. If I hire you to vacuum I can't force you to quit by promoting you to maintenance engineer. Talk to a lawyer and bring the job description, employee handbook, and a copy of anything you ever signed with them. Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 4:03
  • @CandiedOrange This depends on the state. If I remember, all but two states are "at will" employment states, meaning that you can be separated for any reason or no reason at all. There are no protections in place, other than you would have a hard time arguing an employee shouldn't be able to collect unemployment if you force them to quit by significantly changing the work environment.
    – DVK
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 13:10
  • @DVK at will just means you don't have tenure. They are free to fire you without cause. Doesn't mean they can force you to quit. The whole point here is to argue for the rights granted when you are unwillfully terminated. Strongest argument for that is to keep showing up and keep doing the original job until they terminate you. Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 13:35

They can't force you to accept the promotion, but they may certainly force you to do the work, and fire you if you refuse.

The company has certain needs, and has decided that you are the person to fulfill them. They offered you a "promotion". If you accept, you're fulfilling their needs, and they like you for it (or at least they have who to blame if you don't).

By refusing, however, what you're telling them is that you are not able, or willing to do what they need done. At that point you're painting a target on your back. They may not want to keep paying you to do what you're doing, because they feel that it's not what they need.

Keep in mind that your boss can always assign you new responsibilities anyway, so there's no way to know if they might not pile all the work on your regardless of whether you accept the promotion or not.

However this is an opportunity for you to negotiate a better paycheck. You might then leverage the new title and salary to get a better offer from another company.

Realistically, however, if you're going to refuse the promotion it's probably time to start looking for a new job.

  • 5
    "However this is an opportunity for you to negotiate a better paycheck. You might then leverage the new title and salary to get a better offer from another company." - this is the thought that also occurred to me. Suck it up, deal with it, take the money and look for something else. Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 18:55
  • Good advice, get as good a deal as you can and soldier on until you have a job offer.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 21:35

If you refuse the position then likely they will never offer you another one later. People in your organization are going to slot you into a box of someone who is not interested in management. They may even see you as less than serious about your current role. This isn't really a huge downside if you have already decided to move on, but could be if you wanted to stay.

Your Boss may be annoyed with you for turning down the promotion and that could reflect in your future pay raises, task assignments and performance evaluations. Most bosses would be fine with it, but there are some vindictive types out there who would take it personally. This could be a bigger problem in the short term while you look for another role and definitely a possible problem if you stay.

Taking the promotion on the other hand, may give you more flexibility to fix currently existing problems and it may give you more money and a better title that could reflect in your ability to get a better job elsewhere. I have found in life though that only you can determine if those factors outweigh the extra responsibility.

If you turn it down, the other thing that could happen is it will be offered to someone one else. You might not like who gets the job and you will have no basis for complaint since you said no. Or they may be unable to find anyone to take the job under the current conditions, so the job duties will be split among the current staff with no pay raise. Just some things to think about.

If you truly don't want the job, I would suggest telling your boss to take you out of consideration for the promotion before they make an official offer. At least that way you save them the effort of trying to convince you to take their offer.

  • I disagree with this as it is subjective to corporate culture. Any good manager understands that different individuals are motivated by different things. Some want advancement, some like technical challenges, some thrive on balance. A decent manager doesn't penalize an employee for having their own career path.
    – DVK
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:55
  • @DVK, I said that in the second paragraph, unfortunately not all managers feel this way. And good managers are less likely to be in places like the OP described.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 21:32

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .