Can my manager ask me to take on a new area of work which lies outside my current competence?

Being asked to move into a new area of work outside your current competence can be exciting, but only if the move takes place in consultation with you, with proper support and training, and with clarity as to how long you will be allowed to try out the new job, and what will happen if you are unable to perform the new role effectively despite training.

Make sure you agree these issues clearly, before the transfer – and get them set out in writing, for example in an email. It is very easy to overlook these issues in the rush and enthusiasm for the new role, or because you are worried about sending the wrong message and looking as if you are worried about failing.

Ideally, your employer should agree that if the change doesn't work out, you will be allowed to return to your old role. If this is no longer possible, for example because someone else is doing your job, your employer should be prepared to agree that you will be offered a suitable alternative role – preferably with the same pay and benefits – and that if there is no such role available, that you will get notice pay and a redundancy payment.

You should sort out all these issues clearly in advance because you need to know where you stand if things don’t work out. In general, the law cannot be relied on to protect you if you find yourself unable to perform the new role.

Sometimes workers are asked to move into a new area because of developments such as changes in technology. Proper training and support should always be provided.

Unions have a lot of experience at highlighting training needs at times of change, and organising for these needs to be properly addressed. If a union is recognised, there may be a Union Learning Rep (ULR) at your workplace. If so, ask for their help. Your employer may also be interested to find out more. Take a look at the website of Unionlearn, the learning and skills organisation of the TUC. ULRs work with you and with the employer to make sure you access the training and skills you need.

Your employer also has a duty to take care of your health, safety and welfare, and this includes your mental health. Failing to provide adequate training and support at times of change is a key cause of workplace stress, at both an individual and an organisational level. The Health and Safety Executive explicitly recognises this. Its set of Management Standards for Work-related Stress (the standards all employers should meet) include this standard: 'Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation'.

If you are being asked to work at a higher level of skill or competence, or 'acting up' temporarily at a higher grade, you should be rewarded with a higher rate of pay. Check your contract terms and the staff handbook and speak to your manager, with the help of your union rep if possible.

If you are working extra hours as a result, discuss how these additional hours are to be paid.

Even if your contract terms do not envisage additional pay, you may be able to achieve a rise to reflect the additional duties through negotiation.

Ask for an informal meeting with your manager to raise issues such as training, support, hours and pay. Before you go in, make a note of the points you want to make, and ask if you can take a companion. If you are not able to make headway on an informal basis, you may need to escalate the issue by using the formal grievance procedure.

If the issue is affecting not just you but other workers too, you are likely to do much better – and avoid the risk of feeling isolated by sticking your neck out – if you adopt a collective approach. Speak to your union about the best way to organise in your workplace around the issue of training needs. If you are not yet a union member, use our Union Finder tool to find the most suitable union for you.

Finally, remember that if you are disabled, you are protected by specific statutory rights, including your employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.