What do I need to know about changes to employment contracts?

What do I need to know about changes to employment contracts?

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 employment contract

An employment contract 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 employment contracts.

  • Employment contracts

What or who can change a contract of employment?

Either you or your employer might want to change your employment contract.However, neither you or your employer can change your employment contract without each other’sagreement. Changes should normally be made after negotiation and agreement.

Changes to employment contracts could be made by:

  • agreement between you and your employer
  • collective agreement – thisis a negotiation between your employer and a trade union or staff association
  • implication – that is through a change in long standing custom and practice (for exampleif your employer allows all employees a day off each year for New Year’s Eve)

If a collective agreement makes a change to employment contracts,the change will still apply to you even ifyou are not a member of the trade union or staff association.

Reasons for changing an employment contract

An employer’s need

An employer sometimes needs to make changes to working practice 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 where you 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.

  • Disciplinary issues at work

Employees’ need

Employees might also ask to change the terms of their contract. For example, you might want:

  • better pay (you dont have an automatic right to a pay rise, unless its in your contract)
  • improved working conditions
  • more holiday
  • different working hours
  • to work flexible hours
  • to work part-time
  • Who can request flexible working?
  • Holiday entitlements: the basics
  • Part-time work

Flexibility clauses

Your employmentcontract may include ‘flexibility clauses’.These give your employer the right to change certain conditions (for example, shift patterns) or there may be 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 incompletely unreasonable 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. There is more information about implied terms in the ‘Employment contract terms article’.

  • Employment contract terms

Do changes have to be in writing?

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

  • Written statement of employment particulars

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.

  • Who can request flexible working?
  • Sunday work
  • Working time limits (the 48-hour week)

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 why
  • listen to alternative ideas

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.

  • Disagreeing to changes in your employment conditions

Changes to your employer

If your employer changes, you are normally entitled to receive a new full written statement of employment particulars within two months of the change. You would not be entitled to this if:

  • your employers name changes without any change to who your employer is (for exampleif the company is renamed)
  • your employer changes, but yourjob continues unaffected (such asduring protected business transfers, also known as TUPE)

In these circumstances, you are entitled to be given individual written notice of the change at your employers earliest opportunity. This must be no later than one month from the date of the change.

  • Written statement of employment particulars
  • Employment protection during business transfers and takeovers
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