14 September 2023

The position and tasks of the employee are one of the key elements of the employment contract and are typically recorded in the job description. It is often a matter of dispute between the parties whether the employer can unilaterally modify the job description at all, and if so, to what extent. In a recent court decision, a Hungarian appellate court addressed the above question in a situation where the employer supplemented the employee's tasks with new tasks similar to his existing tasks. In this article, we analyse the recent decision on this matter.

1. Facts of the case

The plaintiff (Employee) was employed as a specialist, he usually carried out administrative tasks.

Since the employee had spare capacity, he took over some of the tasks of his supervisor, who was preparing for maternity leave, however these tasks were not specifically mentioned in his job description.

The defendant (Employer) had a recurring annual task of dealing with specific tenders. Given that the Employer had high workload, the Employee was involved in that task too.

The Employee notified the Employer of the significant workload and requested an addition to his job description and asked for financial compensation in connection with the additional tasks.

Since the Employer failed to do so and, in the Employee's view, the Employer humiliated him in front of his co-workers in response to his request, the Employee terminated his employment with immediate effect.

In his claim, the Employee requested severance pay and an absence allowance based on the Labour Code.

2. First instance decision

According to the first instance court, the notice of termination was lawful, since the Employee had been assigned other duties in addition to his own job duties, and the Employer failed to reduce his workload despite his request, and the obligation to take part in the administration of tenders was also unlawful.

3. Second instance decision

The second instance court reached partially different legal conclusions on the basis of the facts established by the first court.

With regard to the tasks taken over from the supervisor, the second instance court found that these tasks, which the Employee had not previously carried out, were purely administrative in nature, i.e. they did not constitute managerial tasks.

However, the change to some of the duties of the post and the assignment of new tasks did not constitute a change in the job description. The employer is entitled to reallocate or modify the duties of the job as long as it does not affect the substance of the job.

The second instance court therefore attached importance not to the comparison of the job descriptions but to the fact that the nature of the tasks assigned to the Employee did not differ from his job as an administrative assistant.

The tasks taken over did not therefore change the Employee's job title, since he continued to carry out administrative tasks relating to the activities of the department.

The content of the job description is relevant because of the clarity and accountability of the duties to be performed. The Employee was, however, undisputedly aware of his duties and was informed of them in detail.

Furthermore, according to the Hungarian Labour Code, the Employer is entitled to temporarily reassign their employees to jobs other than what is contained in the employment contract, for maximum 44 working days.

With regard to the tasks relating to the administration of tenders, the second instance court found that the Employer had given the Employee additional tasks (which would have required the modification of the job description) based on the above right to reassign the employee for a limited period, therefore the Employer’s instruction did not violate the law.

4. Comment

In the examined case, the second instance court did not find the above circumstances to be a legitimate ground for immediate termination. With the decision, the court confirmed the Hungarian court practice and jurisprudence, based on which, the employer can unilaterally make minor amendment to the employee’s tasks, as long as it does not affect the essence of his job.