During your employment there may come a time when your employer wants to change your terms and conditions of employment. This may be in order to;
You may also want to change the terms and conditions of your employment, for example to request flexible working, or if your health status has changed and you need reasonable adjustments or want to drop your hours. You and your employer are both parties to the employment contract. The terms of the contract can be changed if you both agree, and there is some form of payment for the change. Where a change is agreed, your employer must give you a revised statement of your employment particulars within a month after any change under section 4 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Your employer should not change any of these terms of your employment contract without your agreement. If your employer changes or attempts to impose a change of the terms of your contract without your agreement, this is called a unilateral variation.
You may have a claim in the employment tribunal if your employer changes the terms of your employment contract without your consent, or without paying you adequately for the changes. There are three ways in which an employer can carry out these changes as follows;
In order for you to effectively resist these changes, you need to have a basic understanding of employment contracts, what the law allows your employer to do, your rights and the options available to you. You should always start by raising a grievance.
Your employer can reserve the right in the employment contract to make changes to terms and conditions of employment without getting your explicit consent. The law says that for this to happen, your employer must express the reserved right in clear language, in a way that does not breach the term of mutual trust and confidence or act so unreasonably, arbitrarily or capriciously as to breach that obligation.
You would probably have seen an example in your own employment contract where it specifies your duties, but also states that your employer can ask you to carry out other reasonable duties in the future. This is the kind of term that allows your employer to amend the contract without paying you for the change or getting your agreement. It is a breach of the duty if your employer introduces fresh or changed terms without any notice, warning, or consultation.
Even though your employer can change a term of your contract if the employment contract specifically allows it, the courts have generally been quite reluctant to enforce such a term. In Wandsworth London Borough Council v D’Silva and Another , the court said that employers need to use clear language in a contract to be able to unilaterally vary it. The courts may not uphold such a term where the result would be harsh and unreasonable. Here, the council wanted to change its Code of Practice on Staff Sickness and the employees objected. The Council argued that the Code was not part of the employment contract, and that in any event they had reserved the right to alter the terms and conditions of the contract.
In Bateman v Asda Stores , the Employment Appeal Tribunal said that employers can reserve the right to vary employees’ contracts unilaterally as long as the term is clear and they do not exercise the power in such an unreasonable way that they breach the term of mutual trust and confidence when doing so. In this case, Asda wanted to move some members of staff onto a new, up to date pay structure. After an extensive consultation process, about 9,300 staff agreed to move onto the new structure voluntarily but about 8,700 refused. Asda relied on an express term in the staff handbook to impose the new regime on the employees.
About 700 employees lodged claims for unlawful deduction of wages under section 13 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. The employment tribunal said that although employers normally need consent to vary their employees’ contracts, they could reserve the right to unilaterally vary them as long as the language of the term was clear. Such a term did not give employers an unqualified right to introduce changes. And the term would be unenforceable if the employer had acted so unreasonably or arbitrarily that they ended up in breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence. For instance, if they introduced the change without any notice or warning.
ASDA was allowed to vary the contracts unilaterally as they had given their employees several months notice of the change, and they had not done anything to breach the term of mutual trust and confidence.
If the proposed changes impact disproportionately on you because of a protected characteristic you may also have a claim for indirect discrimination. In Meade-Hill and Another v British Council  Mrs. Meade-Hill was promoted by the Council. The promotion included a variation in her contract with the addition of a mobility clause which required employees of certain grades to serve in any part of the country as required by the council. She would not have been able to move if she was asked because her husband earned more than she did and they had to stay near his work. Mrs. Meade-Hill said that the mobility clause was indirect sexual discrimination and the court agreed. The court said that an employee mobility clause in a contract must be justified, or it could be discriminatory against women.
Even if your employer has given notice of the changes, and has consulted with you, you need to object in writing as soon as possible. You do this through the grievance procedure. This is not the sort of situation where you try to resolve the matter informally. If you do nothing, you will be taken to have agreed to the change. The grievance will probably not stop your employer from imposing changes, but it is the beginning of your formal protest about the changes and puts your employer on notice that matters could escalate to the employment tribunal if not resolved.
The options available to you are to;
Another case is Rigby v Ferodo Limited  where Ferodo Limited cut wages by 5% to stay afloat. The trade union agreed not to strike and Mr. Rigby, who worked as a lathe operator on £129 a week made it known that he did not accept the wage reduction. For him this was approximately £30 a week. He continued to work and after over a year, he made a claim for the shortfall. The Court said that it was a unilateral variation of the contract, which was a breach, and so Mr. Rigby was entitled to damages. The Court of Appeal and the House of Lords agreed It held that if an employer reduces wages without a worker’s consent, the worker may continue to work and claim the shortfall.
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