Sometimes people who think they know what they are getting into when they take jobs soon believe they were duped.

QI applied for a job that I wanted and was hired. On my first day, they told me that someone was on vacation and I would have to do his job until he came back. I said okay, even though I did not want to do that job. The next day I was told that I did such a great job that I was going to do it permanently, and when the guy came back from vacation he would do something else. A couple of days later, I found out there wasn't any guy on vacation. The company apparently had intended to put me in that job all along. I immediately gave two weeks' notice.

Amazingly, at another company, on my first day, I was told that someone had just quit, so until they hired a replacement, I would have to do her job and my job. I said okay, because I didn't know what else to say. They never interviewed anyone else and apparently always intended for me to do both jobs, which was exhausting.

I asked a lot of questions at interviews at both these jobs, yet essentially the same thing happened twice. Do I have any recourse? How can I prevent this from happening a third time?

A Steven M. Darien, chairman and chief executive of Cabot Advisory Group, a Bedminster, N.J., firm that advises corporate clients on employment issues, said, "I'm not sure what recourse he has unless he can demonstrate he was harmed in a financial way." Any legal dispute over his hiring is likely to turn into a "he-said, she-said kind of thing."

Darien said assigning employees to various jobs in a company is a management prerogative. "Managements have a right to change jobs, although not totally out of the realm of what responsibilities were agreed upon." He said, for example, that an aging worker assigned duties completely beyond his normal tasks might be able to prove that he was discriminated against because of his age.

The workplace is "a highly flexible environment," Darien said, "and jobs change all the time. You need to expect different duties all the time."

Nonetheless, he said, applicants can protect themselves to a certain degree by getting job offers in writing, listing the expected duties with assurances that they will keep specified positions for "a reasonable amount of time."

"You can ask that they spell out whatever's important to you, such as a day shift or not working weekends," Darien said.

On the Job would also suggest that workers talk with people who work for a new employer, preferably away from the office, to hear what work life might be like. Vault.com has a wealth of information about major employers and job-searching strategies as well as comments from workers about their experiences at specific companies.

-- Kenneth Bredemeier

E-mail your workplace questions to Kenneth Bredemeier at bredemeier@washpost.com. Discuss workplace issues with him Wednesday at 11 a.m. at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.