No matter what industry you work in, your goal is to no doubt climb the ranks and eventually get yourself promoted. So when the opposite occurs, and you wind up getting demoted instead, it can be a major blow to your self-esteem. It's estimated that 14% of employees have gotten demoted at work, and nearly half of HR managers have seen their companies force workers to take a step down.

If you're on the receiving end of a demotion, your first inclination might be to up and quit, which is precisely what 52% of demoted workers have done in the past. But before you do, you might consider fighting back against that demotion, especially if you feel it was unwarranted.

Man sitting at a desk holding his head


When a demotion strikes

Arguing your demotion won't necessarily be easy, but if you feel you didn't deserve that fate, it's an effort worth making. But, first, know this: Most U.S. workers are employed at will, which means your company can fire or demote you as it pleases. There are exceptions, however. It's illegal for your employer to force you to take a step down because of your race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs, so if you have reason to think one of these factors has played a role in your demotion, that's something you should take to your HR department immediately. Similarly, if you happen to get demoted after reporting an unsafe or unfair practice at work, that's something to bring up to HR as well, since employers aren't allowed to demote workers for whistleblowing.

But let's assume that your demotion isn't a matter of discrimination or retaliation but rather just a generally unfair move on the part of your boss. If that's the case, then you still have a leg to stand on if there's no documentation on record showing your performance has been problematic. While your boss might claim that your work has been suffering of late, or that your attitude hasn't been stellar, usually companies require managers to document such unfavorable patterns so that when demotions do occur, there's a lower chance of legal repercussions. Therefore, if your file doesn't contain a single black mark against you, you should absolutely argue that fact with your company's HR team.

Before you do, however, sit down with your boss and try to get to the bottom of things. Specifically, ask for an explanation as to why you were demoted, and, if possible, get your manager to put it in writing. This will avoid a "he said, she said" situation when HR inevitably needs to get involved.

Next, gather evidence to show why your boss' assertions are bogus. For example, if your manager claims that your poor attention to detail drove the decision to demote you, review the last several dozen assignments you submitted. If none of them contained negative feedback, but were all accepted as is, that diminishes the validity of your boss' claim.

You might also need to enlist the help of your colleagues to fight back against your demotion. For example, if your boss claims that you've been rude and difficult to work with, it'll be hard to prove that that wasn't the case unless your coworkers are willing to step in and back you up. But if you can get a few of them in your corner, it might help you build your case.

Once you know what you're dealing with, take that information to HR and present it professionally. Don't accuse your boss of being unfair but, rather, state that you feel your demotion was unwarranted, and emphasize the fact that it was truly out of the blue. Then, give your HR team some time to review the facts at hand. Maybe they'll side with you and overturn your boss' decision or maybe they won't. It'll all depend on the circumstances at hand. But know that you really have little to lose by fighting back.