Changes to employment contracts - overview
Even if you don't have anything in writing, an agreement to work for someone in return for pay means you have a contract.
If you don’t have a written statement or contract from your employer you can ask for one.
Most people have a right to receive a written statement within 2 months of starting work. The statement should describe the main terms and conditions of your contract of employment.
It’s best to get help from your local Citizens Advice or a solicitor if you think you’ve been unfairly treated or changes have been made to your contract that you don’t agree with. You should do this straight away before talking to your employer.
Changes your employer can make
Changes your employer may want to make to the terms and conditions of your contract include:
There are a number of ways your pay could be cut, for example:
- cutting your basic rate of pay
- reducing your bonus or overtime rate
- reducing your paid holiday entitlement
- reducing the amount of sick pay you can get
- refusing to give you a pay rise that you’re entitled to under your contract
Changing your hours of work
Your employer may want to change your work hours by:
- cutting your hours so you earn less
- increasing the hours you work
- changing the hours that you work without changing the total number of hours, for example, moving from night shift to day shift
Other changes your employer might make
Your employer may also want to change:
- your place of work
- your job duties
- entitlement to sick leave
- fringe benefits or perks
- maternity rights
- redundancy rights
When your employer can make these changes
Whether or not your employer can make any of the changes listed above will depend on:
- if your firm has recently changed hands
- your contract of employment
- if you agree to the change
If your firm has recently changed hands
Your contract of employment
Some contracts of employment contain a term or condition which allows your employer to make certain changes. These terms may be called variation terms, flexibility clauses or mobility clauses.
If your contract contains a variation term
This allows your employer to change a particular term or condition in your contract without asking you first.
Check your contract of employment to see if it has a variation term. If there is no variation term about the change your employer wants to make to your terms and conditions of employment, they may be breaking your contract. Even if your contract does contain a variation term, you may still be able to negotiate a better deal with your employer.
If your contract includes a flexibility clause
A ‘flexibility clause’ allows your employer to change the duties of your job.
This term will often be at the end of your job description and may say, for example, that along with your main duties, you will also be expected to carry out any other duties that are reasonably asked of you.
In this case, your employer can change your job duties, but it must be within reason. For example, if you’re a sales manager, it could be reasonable for your employer to ask you to work on a new product line but it wouldn’t be reasonable to ask you to do a completely different job.
If your contract doesn’t have a flexibility clause and your employer wants to change the duties of your job, they may be breaking your contract.
If your contract includes a mobility clause
Your employer may be able to change your place of work. A mobility clause may say, for example, that you can be called upon to work anywhere in the UK, or at any of your employer's sites.
If your contract doesn’t have a mobility clause, your employer may be breaking your contract if they want to change where you work.
Your employer shouldn’t make a change to your contract without you agreeing to it if the contract doesn’t have a variation term, mobility clause or flexibility clause in it. However, it can be hard to challenge your employer even if this is the case. It’s best to speak to an employment adviser or solicitor before you take any action.
If you do agree to a change
You don't have to say anything to your employer, or sign a new agreement to agree to a change. As long as you carry on working, this will be taken to mean you’ve accepted the change.
If you don't agree to a change
You must make it clear to your employer if you don’t agree to a change. You should do this in writing, sign and date your letter, and keep a copy. This letter will count as a written grievance.
If you don’t tell your employer you disagree with a change, this will be taken to mean that you’ve accepted it.
You should do this straight away, or as soon as possible after the change has been introduced.
You can continue to work 'under protest' for a while but you can’t do this indefinitely without taking further action. This may mean making a claim to an employment tribunal, or, in some extreme situations, resigning from your job and claiming 'constructive unfair dismissal’.
If you don’t want to do either of these things, you may eventually have to accept the changes to your contract. There are strict time limits for making a claim to an employment tribunal.
Changes to contracts can sometimes lead to discrimination. For example, if you’re a single parent, a change to your place of work might make it impossible for you to get your child to school. If you think you’ve been discriminated against it’s best to get help from an adviser or a solicitor as soon as possible.
The change was negotiated by your trade union
If you work for an organisation in which a trade union has bargaining rights, you may not be able to stop a change to your contract by objecting to it.
Bargaining rights mean that the union has the right to negotiate with your employer on your behalf about the terms and conditions in your contract. It makes no difference whether you are a member of the trade union or not - any agreements negotiated by the trade union will automatically be included in your contract of employment.
If you want to object to a change in your contract which has been negotiated by a trade union you should talk to an experienced employment adviser or solicitor.
Take action about changes to your contract
If you want to object to a change to your contract, write to your employer telling them that you don’t agree to the change and the reasons why. Keep the tone of the letter polite.
If your employer hasn’t given you any notice about the changes, or hasn’t consulted with you in any way, the letter should say this. It should also ask about the reasons for the changes and, where possible, suggest alternative ways of meeting your employer's needs.
Sign and date the letter, send it by recorded delivery, and keep a copy. This letter will count as a written grievance if you need to make a claim to an employment tribunal. You may wish to get help from your trade union representative, an experienced adviser at your local Citizens Advice or an employment solicitor in writing this letter.
If your employer doesn’t want to talk to you after getting your letter, or if talking to your employer doesn’t work, you may have to think about making a claim to an employment tribunal, or suing your employer for breaking your contract (this is called ‘breach of contract’).
Time limits for making a claim to an employment tribunal
The normal time limit for making a claim to an employment tribunal is 3 months less one day from the date when the problem happened.
Before making your claim you must put in a request to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) for early conciliation. Early conciliation is a scheme which tries to solve an employment dispute before it goes to an employment tribunal.
It’s best to get the help of an experienced employment adviser or a solicitor to make sure you don't miss the deadline.
When you see an adviser or solicitor, take a copy of your employment contract and copies of any relevant letters or emails between you and your employer. If your problem is to do with pay, you should also show the adviser your payslips.