Law guide: Workplace

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Changes to employment conditions

Changes to employment conditions

Contents

Sometimes it's necessary to change the terms and conditions of an employment contract. Find out why your contract might be changed, what your rights are and how to avoid or resolve problems in making these changes.

The contract of employment

A contract of employment is an agreement between you and your employer, outlining both sides' rights and duties. If you haven't already done so, you might find it useful to read about contracts of employment in our 'Employment contracts' section.

Why change a contract of employment?

Either your employer or you might want to change your contract of employment. Changes should normally be made after negotiation and agreement.

Employers

Employers sometimes need to make changes because of economic circumstances. The business may need to be reorganised, moved to a new location, or there may need to be changes because of new laws or regulations. Things that might change include:

  • Rates of pay
  • Working time (for example, longer or shorter hours, different days)
  • Your duties and responsibilities
  • The duties and responsibilities of your immediate boss
  • The location of your place of work

Your employer might need to make a change to correct a mistake in drawing up the contract. Depending on the situation, it might be in your best interests to allow the mistake to be corrected.

In some circumstances, action like a demotion or a pay cut might be authorised as a disciplinary measure. Check the disciplinary procedure to be sure.

Employees

Employees might also ask to change the terms of their contract. You might want:

  • Better pay (you don't have an automatic right to a pay rise, unless it's in your contract)
  • Improved working conditions
  • More holiday
  • Different working hours
  • To work flexible hours
  • To work part-time

Do changes have to be in writing?

Agreed changes don't necessarily have to be in writing, but if they alter the terms explained in your 'written statement of employment particulars', your employer must give you a written statement showing what has changed, within a month of the change.

Flexibility clauses

Your contract may include 'flexibility' clauses, which give your employer the right to change certain conditions (for example, shift patterns) or a 'mobility clause', allowing changes to your job location.

A flexibility clause that is vaguely worded (for example, 'the employer reserves the right to change terms from time to time') cannot be used to bring in totally absurd changes. This is because there's an 'implied term of mutual trust and confidence' in all contracts that requires the employer not to act completely unreasonably.

If your employer is bought by another company, or moves to a new location, your existing terms and conditions should continue, although the new owners should give you an amended written statement in their name.

What to do if you want to change your contract

If you want to make a change, speak to your employer and explain why. You can't insist on making changes unless they're covered by a statutory right (for example, opting out of Sunday working or the 48-hour week). You might be able to apply to change your hours under flexible working rights.

If your employer wants to change your contract

If your employer wants to make changes, they should consult you or your representative (for example, a trade union official), explain the reasons, and listen to alternative ideas. If your employer changes your contract without your agreement you can treat the change as a breach of contract. On the basis of a breach of contract you can approach the normal courts as well as an Employment Tribunal (Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland).

For more information, see our 'Breach of contract' section.

Changes can be agreed directly between you and your employer, or through a 'collective agreement' between your employer and a trade union. This might be allowed by your contract even if you're not a union member.