Sometimes someone working for an organization cannot be eliminated, but isn't actually wanted in his role. Perhaps he's far too eager but incompetent, or is good but has some crazy ideas, or just annoys everyone. Maybe the only reason he has this role is that he's the boss' nephew, and he's terrible at the actual job. Maybe he can't be fired because of some complicated union situation, or because employment law heavily favors the employee rather than the employer in this setting. Rather than being eliminated normally, they can get "promoted" beyond the point where they get to do anything damaging or given a role that serves no useful functions (except, perhaps, giving the appearance of workplace diversity). Or the employee can be given a "vitally important task" that really isn't worth the effort (and may even be a Snipe Hunt). Alternatively, the role assigned might be significant, but the main advantage of putting the character there is that it would be a long way from anyone else you care about.
This can often be used as an excuse of why an authority figure of an obscure topic is so awful at his job: He got kicked upstairs into the position. This is the most benign fate of a Pointy-Haired Boss: He goes from incompetently micromanaging your every task to incompetently giving vague company mission statements. Other times, however, an organization kicks someone upstairs for more unethical reasons like silencing a potential whistleblower with a higher salary and a cushy (but meaningless) position.
If the first thing we see of a character is him being kicked upstairs, you can bet that his job is about to become Serious Business.
In his book The Peter Principle, Dr. Laurence J. Peter called moving an incompetent employee to one of these jobs "Percussive Sublimation." This is closely related to the "Lateral Arabesque," in which the incompetent employee is kicked sideways, instead of up; either way, the personnel in question get shuffled over into a new position of theoretically equal status (if not higher), but which doesn't have nearly as much effect on the situation.
Japanese firms call people assigned to this madogiwazoku (literally "by-the-window tribe"), assigned to what seems to be a position of prestige and respect for a venerable company elder that has no real power or subordinates, except to look out the window and wait to retire or die. These positions are usually looked upon with disdain by both other people within the company and the people assigned to them. In Japan's workaholic society, this position is essentially forced pre-retirement (when retirement is basically viewed as one step short of death) and generally leads to boredom and low self-esteem from not being a valuable part of the company (and, by extension, society). However, in the modern Japanese society, kicking people upstairs with the intent of forcing a resignation out of the victim is considered a sign of a black companynote and in one case, has been ruled illegal. Sadly, it does not prevent other companies in Japan from continuing the trend.
In the Soviet bureaucracy, the phrase was otfutbolit na cherdak ("kick up to the attic").
The name of the trope comes from British politics, where the "Upstairs" in question is the House of Lords. Being given a title like "Lord" or "Baron" sounds like a great reward for a career in politics — until you realize that it disqualifies you permanently from sitting in the House of Commons, where all the real decisions are made (Winston Churchill was offered a Earldom or a Dukedom after WWII, but he turned them down so he would retain his prospects for becoming Prime Minister again (which he did), and also so his eldest son could pursue a career in politics).
Yes, Minister popularized the phrase in recent times. But it dates to 1684, when the post of Lord President was given to Laurence Hyde, First Earl of Rochester after his mismanagement of the country's finances. His contemporary Lord Halifax commented: "I have seen people kicked down stairs but my Lord Rochester is the first person that I ever saw kicked up stairs".
A similar term, applied more to the office itself than the person being "promoted" to it, is "sinecure", for a job that involves little or no actual work. It comes from the Latin sine cura, "without care"; the term originated in the medieval church, where it meant a job for a priest that did not directly involve ministering to souls, such as being a bishop's secretary, but also a job with no real duties. Of course, not all promotions or appointments to a sinecure are examples of being Kicked Upstairs, but depending on what the person's old job was and their employer's motives for putting them there, they certainly can be. The "deputy leader" post in most governments (e.g. Vice President of the United States) is widely considered one of these, therefore leading to the trope Vice President Who?.
May or may not include being Reassigned to Antarctica in the process. Often leads to a Reassignment Backfire (and as mentioned earlier, if the character is important or this is how we first see them then this is practically guaranteed). A supernatural version of this can be Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. When the kicking is done by a family member, it's Nepotism. Contrast with Promoted to Scapegoat. For the competent but non-action-oriented position of authority, see Desk Jockey. If the person in question becomes dissatisfied, then it crosses into Disappointing Promotion. If the occupation is intentionally vague as to limit power, see Obliquely Obfuscated Occupation.
- Captain Goto in Patlabor, probably the smartest guy on the force and a pain in the neck for his superiors, got assigned to the ragtag Special Vehicles Unit, Second Division mainly because they had no prestige and their headquarters is on the city outskirts.
- Bleach: Haschwalth believes that Yhwach chose his newly-appointed successor because he was an insurrection risk. His sudden elevation to imperial heir keeps the angry army focused on him and prevents him from plotting betrayal. Yhwach's successor? Uryuu Ishida. It's hinted that Uryuu very quickly reached the same conclusion as Haschwalth.
- Stella, a minor character in To Love Ru, was a Loony Fan of Lala's who was considered so crazy and obsessive that she was made president of Lala's fan club where part of her duty is deflecting other loony fans.
- Fullmetal Alchemist:
- After Mustang figures out that Führer King Bradley is really a homunculus, Bradley and the rest of Central Command have Mustang's five closest subordinates reassigned to other locations to separate him from his most loyal allies; Falman in particular is promoted to Second Lieutenant, but transferred to Fort Briggs in the middle of nowhere, and put to work scraping off icicles. Hawkeye, meanwhile, gets reassigned as Fuhrer Bradley's personal assistant (and Bradley makes it clear that she's really a hostage against Mustang).
- The same can be said about Olivier's promotion to Central, meant to separate her from her loyal subordinates, just as Mustang was.
- Pokémon: The Series: This happened to Misty past the original series. She becomes the sole Gym Leader of Cerulean Gym and it is heavily implied that she has to lose to rookies quite a bit in order to be this in a manner that is very similar to Team Rocket. When she returns in Sun and Moon, she laments that she's still stuck there and her sisters are off on another trip (though they do come back periodically, and are said to have filled in so she could visit Hoenn in the Advanced Generation season and Alola in Sun and Moon).
- In the anime version of The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Farangis was assigned the noble task of guarding Arslan (who was missing and being hunted by Lusitanian soldiers at the time) so her fellow sisters at the convent could find a convenient excuse to kick her out. Subverted in that Farangis soon enjoys serving Arslan and she eventually rises up rank while in his service.
- A variant occurs in The Promised Neverland, sister Krone receives a letter informing her of her promotion to Mama right before she can put her plan to bring down Isabella into motion. However her superiors had absolutely no intention of actually delivering on that promotion, and Krone was fully aware of this fact.
- In Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Bright Noa, captain of the famed White Base, is promoted to Commander and made to captain a shuttle transport as thanks for his service. After getting beaten up by members of the Titans, he decides to defect to the AEUG, where they treat him a lot better.
- In season 4 of Aggretsuko, Ton's Jerk with a Heart of Gold tendencies lead him to go to bat for the accounting department he heads, refusing to lay anyone off despite the CEO's orders, while simultaneously being bad-mouthed behind his back by some of those same workers. The result is a "promotion" to head of a newly created department... the name of which is a string of nonsense corporate buzzwords, the office of which is clearly a repurposed storage shed on the building's roof, and which lacks any actual employees for him to lead.
- Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs: A Running Gag is how hard Leon tries to either be demoted or keep his rank, yet his achievements for the Holtfort Kingdom constantly earn him promotions (case in point, he rose from the rank of Baron to Duke in about two years) that he wants to avoid because a higher rank means higher responsibilities that kill his chances for a peaceful life. Part of this is due to the mutual dislike between him and King Roland, who is very much aware of this and moves the strings to make him go up just to spite him.
- Marvel Universe:
- An alternate-universe series has Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D., almost forced sideways, out of any real authority by a sniveling lackey with power. It ends ambiguously, with lots of people dead and the lackey with an eye put out by Nick Fury's cigar.
- Maria Hill was made Acting Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. initially, specifically because of her bias against superpowered beings, and because a bunch of Skrull infiltrators realized she'd be a good patsy. This bias led to her basically instigating the Civil War (2006), as she told Captain America to get on board with the plan to arrest any superhero who was not registered under the Superhuman Registration Act after it came into effect (even if, as evidenced with Luke Cage, they merely sat at home and had done nothing to violate the newly enacted law) or surrender into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. After Civil War, she was demoted and Tony Stark was given the job, which everyone seemed to be happier about (Hill included).
- In Winter War, Gin has undergone a Villainous Breakdown, so Aizen puts him in charge of a conquered Seireitei... a prestigious job that he had to give to someone, but also one that keeps Gin too far away to mess up Aizen's projects.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bon Bon, the reporter Presspass turns in a story that flagrantly ignores his editor's instructions—but also brings a lot of new readers to the paper. The editor can't decide whether to promote him or punish him. Presspass suggests she do both by reassigning him as the Ponyville Features Columnist.
"Why," [the editor] finally said in amazement, "I do believe that covers all the bases! It’s like a promotion and a punishment all in one. A promunishment!"
- In the Chengar Qordath fiction Tales From The Phoenix Empire, this is the Empress' way of removing Cadence from the Nightmare Moon equation, when she knows Cadence is part of a hidden organization designed to find and protect the Elements of Harmony, so that they can purify Nightmare Moon without killing her. The Empress knows this, and knows that Cadence is the most powerful member of the lot, and promotes her to Administrator of the Frozen North, which is little more than watching for the reemerging Crystal Empire and attempting to quell growing tension with the caribou, leaving the Empress free to pursue the Elements for her own plans to deal with Luna. Cadence subverts this by bringing in Twilight to speak with a dragoness that starts to make Twilight question her image of the Empress.
- When Senator Kinsey slaps him in Xander the Maou, Xander has some fun by informing him that in Mazoku culture such an act is considered a marriage proposal. And since Stargate Command thinks Xander is alien royalty, taking it back would be a huge insult to a foreign power; but luckily for him, Xander declines. The president has him promoted to the "Oversight committee on pest control litigation" for nearly causing an interstellar diplomatic nightmare.
- Subverted in the first (chronologically) story of RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse. Trixie, an aspiring politician, thinks being appointed representative of middle-of-nowhere Ponyville by Princess Luna is a punishment for melting an ice palace—seemingly confirmed by a mocking letter from her predecessor—leading her to spitefully ruin the Longest Night Celebration being held in the town. But after doing that, Luna explains to her that small town Ponyville is the perfect place for a politician who is just starting out and would've been a great way to gain some badly-needed experience. Whoops. But it's Double-Subverted at the end of the story, where Luna admits that it actually was a punishment—the politically isolated Ponyville would've been a dead end for Trixie's burgeoning career. Trixie, however, chooses to remain in Ponyville rather than get a more rewarding posting, so that she can stay close to her new friends.
- In Crimson and Emerald: Hawks gives the Hosu Quartet very-sought after internships at his agency. Mostly because he believes that none of them have a self-preservation instinct between the four of them.
- Chasing Dragons: After Jaime's decision to abandon his inheritance in Westeros and break his betrothal with Lysa Tully severely damages relations between the Seven Kingdoms and Myr (not least of all because Lysa commits suicide over it) and causes division in Myr's nobility over whether he was right to do, Robert punishes him by making him part of the embassy to the Summer Islands. While this is technically an important assignment, it's really just a way of getting him very far out of the way until such time as things blow over.
- Cat Tales: Demon's in the Details has Arthur doing this to one of his minsters. It's explained that some time back, he'd appointed a Minister of Surface Intelligence Evaluation, whose job is to monitor surface media and crosscheck it against the findings of younger "pier hoppers" (Atlanteans who snuck away to the surface to see the sights and find out what things are like). Minister Grah's reports, however, are becoming increasingly depressed, jaded, and bitter, so Arthur finds a way to transfer him to a meaningless counselor position where he can't do any harm and replace him with someone who actually wants to know more about the surface world.
- A Moon and World Apart: Variant in the Lunar Republic; if a pony is too apathetic to stick with any kind of real work long enough, they're given a position where they can't do any harm — usually as extras in visual entertainment, where all they have to do is stand around looking busy.
- This Bites!: When the Marines set up a Straw Hat Anti-Fallout Task Force following the events at Enies Lobby, Rear Admiral Brannew is put in charge of it as a "reward" for "years of faithful service". After a while, though, he realizes that the job (and all the headaches that come with it) are punishment for not catching onto the fact that Garp had forged Sengoku's signature to triple Cross' bounty.
- In Birdshot the Board of Governors discovers that it's impossible to fire the headmaster of Hogwarts. They respond to this by "promoting" Dumbledore to Headmaster Emeritus, which means that after a year in the position, the castle itself will kick him out.
- In the Finnish run of The Men from the Ministry this is what happens to Sir Gregory after his actor Yrjö Järvinen retired from acting in 2001. He ends up spending too much government money, and as a result, gets sent to the House of Lords.
- This happened to Jacques Gaillot, the Red Cleric, former bishop of Évreux in France. When his left-wing activism pissed off the wrong people in the Church, he was made Titular Bishop of Partenia, which is a ruined city in Algeria, meaning although it is technically not a demotion, he now has no duties and no congregation.note
- In Roman mythology, Rhea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus, was "honored" with the position of Vestal Virgin by her usurping uncle in order to prevent her bearing sons who would have a better claim to the throne than him. (Key word, obviously, being attempt.)
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition: The supplement Fiendish Codex II reveals that Devils are at risk of having this happen to them. Devils start out as mindless creatures called Lemures, but their superiors can promote them into higher forms, which are theoretically in a linear progression, but often do have downsides compared to earlier forms (i.e. an imp is lower in the heirarchy than a Steel Devil and is a lot weaker, but also smarter). Since devils are embodiments of Lawful Evil, they tend to plot against and backstab their superiors a lot. If a devil's superior wants to be rid of him, but can't come up with a good reason for punishment, he may instead promote him to a stronger but less intelligent (and thus less troublesome) form. Devils call this "lateral demotion". Although devils are happy to gain power however they can they value intelligence and subterfuge over brute force, and as such see lateral demotion as highly undesirable.
- Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition: Druids who advanced to the "hierophant" levels ceased to play any part in the official druidic hierarchy, becoming freelance troubleshooters for Nature and/or philosophical recluses.
- Also in early editions, myconids (fungus-men) dreaded the thought of assuming the role of king of their clan, because that meant leaving the organized structure of melding and was thought of as a lonely job. Nonetheless, if a king died, the most powerful remaining myconid assumed the position without question.
- Queh-Nomag the Skull King resurrected Orcus after the demon prince's demise. For this, he received much power and many rewards. But then he wouldn't stop bragging about it. So as the final reward, Orcus put him in control of a city in Thanatos, his realm... a city that, unbeknownst to Queh-Nomag, means absolutely nothing to Orcus.
- In Nomine: In the hierarchy of demons of Secrets, notoriety is the last thing that one wants. As a reasult, being awarded Alaemon's higher Distinctions is usually a sign of losing favor and influence by being made into the publicly visible — and vulnerable — face of your particular conspiracy, while the real puppetmasters continue to work in the shelter of anonimity.
- This was one of the Scarlet Empress' favorite ways of dealing with rabble-rousers: give them a seat on the Deliberative. At first, this may seem quite attractive ("I'm part of the legislative body. Finally, I can make some real change!"), but then one comes to realize the Deliberative is just a puppet government of the Empress, and any potential law she doesn't like will be lucky if it makes it to the Scarlet Throne to be vetoed.
- This is also extremely popular among gods of the Celestial Bureaucracy: they love highly-paid do-nothing positions with no responsibility where they can collect a paycheck for doing as little work as possible.
- Mage: The Awakening:
- This is the fate of those who become heads of the Great Ministries of the Seers of the Throne. Having become one of the most powerful mages in the world, the Ministers are sequestered away in a hidden pocket realm, where a direct spiritual connection to their patron Exarch leaves them insane, non-functional, and muttering vague divine pronouncements.
- Everyone in the Seer hierarchy is looking to usurp their superiors, often by proving that they can do a better job than the superior is currently doing. A Seer with an ambitious underling is likely to promote them to a position that either a) lacks any significant responsibilities and offers no opportunity to make oneself look good; b) is completely mismatched to the underling's abilities (such as a battle mage being sent to do delicate surveillance and investigation); or c) likely to kill them.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Rogue Trader: This is a common explanation for how the eponymous Trader received his Warrant of Trade, which empowers its holder to go beyond the reaches of Imperial space and basically do whatever the heck they like there. Frequently, a Lord Militant, Inquisitor, or Administratum Adept will begin amassing too much power for the comfort of his superiors and rivals, but be too powerful to be safely assassinated. Solution: grant him a Warrant of Trade. It's way too big an honor to be turned down, and will keep the Trader well away from the corridors of power for the foreseeable future. (Of course, since a competent Rogue Trader can rapidly acquire both a personal empire and more money than seems reasonably possible, this tactic also has a tendency to backfire on those who try it.)
- A meta version happened to the Tau special character Commander Shadowsun in the sixth edition rules. The character was well-liked by fans but the miniatures didn't sell well because she wasn't very effective on the tabletop outside of very specific circumstances (she did street fighting and she did it well). Rather than just kill her off or forget her entirely when the model was discontinued, the writers had her promoted to head of the Tau military. However, with a new edition, a new Codex, and a new model, she began to see much more play as her cost to field came down and she buffs any unit she joins.
- The Imperium is nominally ruled by the council of High Lords of Terra, representatives of the most powerful organizations within the Imperium. However, the Inquisition and Adeptus Sororitas view such an appointment as a huge downgrade that cripples their primary duty for a position in ineffective bureaucratic council. In the Inquisition's case this is largely because their internal organization is largely nonexistent; their solution is to have their official representative be whoever was in the area and not doing anything important that day.
- The Imperial Guard itself can act like this for some of more zealous individuals. Unlike Space Marines, most Imperial Guard officers above captain level never take the field as they are too busy actually coordinating their troops. A particular example is Colonel Regina Casteen who would love to personally shoot at enemies of the Imperium on the front lines, but her position requires her to stay in the command center.
- New Space Wolf recruits who are particularly reckless and impulsive even by Blood Claw standards tend to get "promoted" to Skyclaws, where they are given jetpacks to get them to the enemy faster so they can get kil, err, fight earlier.
- In roleplay groups in general, it's not uncommon to have the least competent/interesting/useful member of the party be promoted GM (or equivalent term). An incompetent DM just makes monsters somewhat easier to kill, an incompetent party member can be a lot more dangerous. Note that this only works for combat-focused groups; in roleplay-focused games, where the GM needs to create and manage the ongoing storyline and often do a lot of improvisation on the fly, it's an invitation to disaster.
- Willy Loman, from Death of a Salesman, is most likely an example of this. Given that he's a salesman, he can't literally be kicked upstairs, but his boss just can't fire him outright. So instead he sends Willy out on the road, where the man can live in his delusions of being the greatest salesman the world has ever seen (when the truth is the complete opposite).
- In Disgaea 3, Evil Academy ultimately deals with Beryl and her squad of delinquents this way, by letting them graduate. Note that the academy usually encourages its students to skip classes and goof off, endlessly paying the tuition; since Raspberyl and the girls insisted on attending every class and doing all their homework, they wound up becoming the first ones to ever graduate. This backfires on Evil Academy since Beryl and her squad's chosen career path...is to become teachers at the academy, meaning they will never leave.
- Mass Effect:
- Mass Effect: This happened to David Anderson early on in the main story and was partially a result of events that occurred in his backstory. When Anderson was being considered to become the first human Spectre, he was sent on a mission to prove if he was a worthy candidate and was paired up with a Turian Spectre named Saren Arterius. During the mission, Saren sabotaged the target facility and blew it up, which caused massive collateral damage and resulted in several hundred innocent deaths. Somehow, Saren was able to place all of the blame on Anderson, and the Citadel Council believed him, immediately revoking Anderson's Spectre candidacy, thereby costing the Alliance its first chance of getting a human Spectre.note Several decades later, Saren invades the human colony of Eden Prime with the Reaper Sovereign and an army of Geth. The only ship that was able to respond to the colony's distress call was the SSV Normandy, a frigate under Anderson's command. In a hearing with the Citadel Council after the invasion, Anderson, his protege, Commander Shepard, and Ambassador Udina try to convince the Council that Saren was behind the attack. Saren denies the Alliance's accusation, and the Council believes him due to a lack of sufficient evidence and their willingness to trust their best agent over the Alliance. When Shepard finally manages to get evidence of Saren's involvement and presents it to the Council, they immediately agree with the Alliance on Saren's treachery and promote Shepard to Spectre with the task of finding Saren and stopping him. Immediately afterwards, Anderson is promoted to a desk job to remove him from his command of the Normandy, with Shepard taking his place as CO. Anderson begrudgingly accepted the "promotion" in lieu of retirement, but only because Shepard needed the ship to hunt down Saren. There is also a political dimension to what happened. Anderson was considered too emotionally invested in bringing down Saren because of what happened between them, something he himself admits, and while he's saddened about losing his command so quickly, he knows that it's the best possible option to help Shepard on the mission to hunt Saren and stop the Reapers.
- In Mass Effect 2, Admiral Gerrel tells a story of service with Tali's father.
Han'Gerrel: Our ship was under orders to hold position, but Rael looked at me and said, "We're underage. They can't charge us for breaking formation." He took the helm, I took weapons, and we brought that freighter back. The crew called us heroes. The brass called us idiots. They slapped medals on our suits then kicked us off to Pilgrimage a bit earlier than usual. That's Rael for you.
- Metal Gear:
- In Portable Ops, Lt. Cunningham was placed at a desk job at the CIA after an unknown FOX mission that he participated in resulted in the loss of his leg, which also acted as one of the reasons why he ended up deciding to work with the Department of Defense in smearing the CIA's reputation.
- In Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Hot Coldman, the main villain for most of the game, as well as a former CIA Director, implies that his getting the job of the CIA Station Chief of Central America was actually him being kicked upstairs/exiled as a result of his involvement in the planning of Operation Snake Eater and presumably the Virtuous Mission.
- Suikoden IV: Snowe is eventually given a ship of his own to command and sent out as Razril's official pirate hunter. This was done to keep him from seeing just how much Razril was suffering from his new Kooluk allies occupying the town.
- The Nancy Drew game Stay Tuned for Danger is partly set at a TV studio in New York City. While there, Nancy encounters the prop master, an eccentric old woman who seems to serve little to no purpose except as another, quite unlikely suspect in the mystery (one of her first lines is basically "No one is allowed in the prop room except the people allowed in the prop room"). However, if you pay attention while in the studio lobby, you'll find a painting of the woman there proving she was the studio's founder.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- In Morrowind, it is implied that this is how the incompetent Trebonius Artorius ended up as the Archmage of the Vvardenfell branch of the Mages Guild. He is a legitimately talented Battlemage, but his mainland superiors grew tired of his incompetence. Since he hadn't broken any rules, they couldn't kick him out of the Guild, so they put him in charge of of the most backwater province in the empire to keep him from mucking things up elsewhere, with a minimum of complaints and issues. (Save for those complaints by his new underlings in Vvardenfell.)
- Oblivion: Several of the Guild Hall Leaders (which sounds important, but all they can really do is write recommendations for newcomers) were given their position as such because Traven didn't want them around the Arcane University itself. Between the incoherent seer Dagail and the suck-up Jeanne Fransoric, you can almost understand why people say Traven has weakened the Guild as a whole.
- The Arcane Council of Guild Wars 2 which governs the Asura is supposed to be their best and brightest. In truth the best and brightest of the Asura would much rather focus on their own projects, so the Council consists of those lacking the savvy to create an excuse for themselves or trick another into the position.
- In one of Undertale's endings, the Hot-Blooded warrior Undyne becomes the queen of the Underground. In order to prevent the lovably goofy Papyrus from getting in her way, she promotes him to "The Most Important Royal Position", whose job is to "stand around and look cute". Papyrus, being Papyrus, accepts his new role with pride.
- In X-Ray & Vav season 2, we find out that Hilda, who created our titular duo's super gear, has been made CEO of Monarch Labs after she ended up ousting the last CEO, the Mad King. She doesn't even know how to CEO and she'd rather be back making her inventions again. The episode "There's No "You" in Team" reveals that Hilda never even was CEO — The Mad King still held power long after he'd been incarcerated.
- The eponymous character of Vexxarr is send to conquer Earth by the Bleen emperor, to make sure he either dies or becomes the lord of the most remote outpost of the empire. In a variation of the Reassignment Backfire, he is captured and released after giving up all his technology, allowing Earth to curbstomp the next Bleen invasion by a (slightly) more competent warlord.
- In El Goonish Shive after some loud mishaps — most of which he's not guilty of — Mr. Verres was promoted to "Head of Paranormal Diplomacy". Such position didn't even exist before. They didn't want to get rid of him since he has connections and talent, just keep him away from the current events for a while. In fact, his new job is a lot of the same work as his former job, so the new position isn't meaningless, it just doesn't involve as much field work.
- Freefall: In one strip, a security guard notes how screwed up the system is, with examples like Varroa Jacobsini and Mr. Kornada working for Ecosystems Unlimited in high-level positions in spite of their obvious incompetence. Considering that Kornada's official job title is Vice President of Paper Clip Allocation — in a paperless office — it's pretty obvious (and later explicitly stated) that this is what happened with him.
Mr. Ishiguro: I gave [Kornada] a make work job! His job was to do nothing! How can a person mess up a job to do nothing?
- Happens to Breya Andreyasen in Schlock Mercenary due to her knowledge of the Laz-R-Us project. Emm initially plans to just kill the Toughs for their involvement, though Petey ultimately convinces her to wipe their memories. Breya, who helped to command efforts against both the Gatekeepers and the Pa'anuri, however, is too well-connected to disappear, so instead she's "promoted" to a bureaucratic job on Earth to get her out of the way. Ironically, it ends up putting her into an ideal position to help thwart a coup by the nannie-hacked police some time later. This in turn leads to her ascention to de facto leader of the Terran power block and the subsequent dissolution of Emm's entire department.
- DOUBLE K: It quickly turns out that Kittan is just as much of a lunatic as Kamina and that his highly-recommended “promotion” to Chief Genome’s unit was actually his old precinct getting him out of their hair. They even fudged his records and risked prison time to do so; he’s that obnoxious.
- Sarilho: Nikita gets a surprise promotion at the end of chapter four and after a particularly bad mission, but the consequences of this are yet to be revealed.
- The Jenkinsverse has Regaari, an alien whose fight against corruption within his Clan saw him "promoted" into the service of the Supreme Mother of his species' females, to which he retaliated by being exceptionally good at his job and earning great prestige and influence. He later scoffed at further threats, joking that the next punishment would be to make him Emperor.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Fire Lord Ozai angers Azula by refusing to allow her to accompany him to the assault on Ba Sing Se. Then, to placate her, he rewards her for her loyal service by naming her the new Fire Lord... moments before he makes the position irrelevant by crowning himself Phoenix King. Azula knows exactly what's happening to her and doesn't take it well ("You can't treat me like Zuko!") and it's one of the contributing factors to her Villainous Breakdown.
- When the Pixies take over Fairy World in The Fairly OddParents!, they figure that they need a fairy in an important-sounding but useless position to keep dissension down. Therefore, Cosmo is given the position of Rice President (not a typo; he is given power over rice, which mostly seems to consist of Pixies bringing him random objects to be identified as rice or not). He specifically was chosen because the Pixies were sure he'd be too stupid to use the position to pose a threat against them. Then one of his decisions as Rice President indirectly led to the Pixies losing Fairy World back to the fairies.
It's the perfect side dish!
- Family Guy:
- Peter Griffin was promoted to president of the entire cigarette/toy company when he questioned why they tried to get kids to smoke. This backfired when part of his job, playing lobbyist, ultimately ended in him condemning the company for getting kids to smoke.
- Lois also tried this on Peter when he kept interfering with her play by promoting him to producer so she could direct. It backfired though. Peter, being an idiot who shouts loud enough to be heard (and most people aren't smart enough to not listen to him), had no idea what a producer was, and still ended up taking the director's role anyway.
- When Peter went to work for a beer company, he initially got a position on the factory floor. As free beer was part of the deal, Peter was hammered in record time, returning home the same night and mistaking his own house for a drive-thru. He was then moved to administration, which doesn't have that benefit.
- Peter Griffin was promoted to president of the entire cigarette/toy company when he questioned why they tried to get kids to smoke. This backfired when part of his job, playing lobbyist, ultimately ended in him condemning the company for getting kids to smoke.
- In Invader Zim, Zim believes that he's been given the highly important task of taking over the Earth. In reality, his superiors didn't even know Earth existed when they sent him out — they just picked a random location in deep space and sent him there to make him stop interfering with the actual mission, fervently hoping he would die en route to his "assignment".
- Legend Quest: In Season 2, Leo's team is "promoted" to a job filing paperwork. Leo and Teodora bemoan that the new job prevents them from hunting monsters, but Don Andres and Alebrije are able to find some enjoyment in it. Later the same season, Marcella's team is handed the same fate, with similar reactions.
- Buddy Boar's few appearances in the second series of Taz-Mania reveal he was removed from being a character on the show and made a director.
- In The Simpsons:
- Homer Simpson gets his job as a safety inspector in the Nuclear Plant this way: after initially being fired for incompetence, he goes on a safety campaign that leads him to challenge his old bosses. But rather than fight him, Mr. Burns manipulates the situation by offering him a new line of work where he won’t be in a position to dissent.
- In "Simpson and Delilah" this happens to Homer completely accidentally. The only reason Mr. Burns promotes him to an executive position was because Homer's new head of hair makes him look superficially more promotable. With Homer as an executive, the power plant improves greatly. Only Smithers realizes this trope is in effect — and that the plant is only doing so well because Homer isn't screwing up his old job — but because Mr. Burns likes Homer now, Smithers is dismissed as Just Jealous.
- Star Trek: Lower Decks:
- "Moist Vessel": Captain Freeman is desperate to get Ensign Mariner (who happens to be her daughter) off of her ship. At first she tries filling Mariner's duty roster with all the worst jobs an ensign can do, but Mariner is able to find a way to make them fun. So Freeman decides to promote her — and in so doing weigh her down with endless bureaucracy and her free time with monotonous social functions that isolate her from her friends. Mariner calls her out on this and gets herself demoted again at the end of the episode by being rude to an Admiral.
- "Terminal Provocations": Mariner herself invokes this; Ensign Fletcher has caused nothing but problems for her and Boimler with his compulsive lying and violent edge, but lower deck tradition means they can't rat him out to the senior staff. Their solution? Give him the credit for saving the day. He gets promoted to Lieutenant, gets a transfer to the USS Titan, and promptly gets fired from Starfleet in less than a week for his incompetence.
- Transformers: Animated:
- This happened, in a way, to Optimus Prime. After the unfortunate loss of Elita-1, which he took responsibility for, he was kicked out of the Elite Guard then promoted by Ultra Magnus to Prime and given command of a starship... assigned to the fringes of space repairing space bridges. Even though the promotion was technically a favor, it still served to stick Optimus far from any worthwhile command. However, the starship included in the deal was also the (apparent) corpse of the most powerful Transformer in existence. Whether or not this was a bonus or an insult depends on the Autobot morals concerning such things.
- It’s heavily implied that Sentinel Prime is only as high-ranking as he is so that Ultra Magnus can keep him focused and make sure he doesn’t screw things up, hence why Jazz (who is older than either Prime and a graduate of the cyber-ninja academy) is ranked below him. This ends up backfiring horribly when a Decepticon spy assassinates Ultra Magnus; because of being kicked so far up, Sentinel is left in a perfect position to become the new Magnus, with predictable results.