A reader writes:
I work at a highly respected multi-billion dollar aviation corporation. This company has been in a long-term project that I have been involved with for nearly seven years.
During the duration of this project, I have been "on loan," along with several other employees from various business areas. Our various official job titles and compensation levels have remained tied to our home departments and our "real" jobs. None of us are doing our normal job functions, our job responsibilities are significantly different and in general are broader in scope than our contemporaries and yet we do similar functions within the special project group. We have a significant base pay imbalance across a small group of people, all with similar new responsibilities. All of us have attempted at one time or another to interview within the company for positions outside the special project group and not once has anyone been successful in these attempts. We have been attempting to get the management to create permanent jobs in the department, since the project will continue to require long term support for the foreseeable future.
What sort of legal recourse do we potentially have? Is there any way to force the company to release us back to the business or properly compensate us for the lost career opportunities we have apparently suffered?
I'm not a lawyer and there may be additional details we don't know about that could change this answer, but unless you have a contract with the company that has been violated, I don't see anything legally actionable here. Assuming there's no discrimination based on legally protected classes, when a company isn't paying you what you'd like, the recourse you have is not the law, but rather your status as a free agent who can walk away.
If I may rant for a moment: People are way too quick to assume they can litigate when their employer does something unfair, jerky, or stupid. The law does not protect you against unfair, jerky, or stupid bosses. It does protect you against being treated differently because of your race, gender, religion, or membership in various other protected classes.
Okay, rant over. And it wasn't really directed at you. This misunderstanding is everywhere.
So. You guys have put up with unfair treatment for seven years. It's good that you're asking the company to correct the situation, but you should figure out if you're prepared to walk away if you don't get what you want, or something close to it. You can't make the company do what you want; all you can control is whether or not you choose to accept what they're offering you.
Sometimes when people are in these situations where they are angry and feel mistreated, they lose sight of the fact that they do (usually) have options. If you don't like what's being offered, go out there and see what other offers the world has for you. You might find one you like a lot better -- or you might decide that you'd rather stay put, despite the current terms. But you'll be picking it deliberately, rather than just accepting it by default.
By the way, when negotiating, it doesn't hurt to let them get the sense that you're willing to walk (especially since after seven years, they're probably feeling complacent). Just be reasonably subtle about it: Don't come across like you're making a threat; decent managers will pick up on the hint. Good luck!