If your employer wants to make changes to your employment contract such as your pay, your hours, work location or holidays, it can be a worrying time. You may be wondering if your employer can change you contract without your consent.
Employees have rights during contract negotiations, and our guide will help you understand them.
How Should Contract Changes Be Agreed?
A contract of employment can only be changed according to its terms, or with the agreement of both parties.
When an employer wants to make changes to a contract, it’s called a “variation of contract”.
You must be given notice of any proposed changes by your employer. This gives you chance to negotiate with them, and lodge any objections.
The first step you need to take when faced with proposed change is to ensure you understand your work contract. If you do not have a copy of your contract, ask your employer.
Contract Variation Clauses
Your contract may contain a variation clause. This type of clause in a contract of employment can allow your employer to make changes.
However, the presence of a variation clause does not give an employer the ability to make whatever changes they would like. This will depend upon the wording of the clause. The employer must also give you notice that they wish to use a variation clause to change your contract.
Any contract changes that are made should be reasonable, and cannot be introduced without notice.
Examples of Legitimate Contract Variation Clauses
- A mobility clause – this might allow your employer to require you to work at another site within a certain geographic area. For example, if you work for a restaurant chain that has two restaurants within the same city, you may be asked to work at the other site.
- A flexibility clause – this will usually allow your employer to change your duties at work. The clause usually lists your main duties and then says ‘plus anything else reasonably asked of you’. For example, a bartender’s usual duties might be to serve drinks. However if the bar is short staffed, they may be asked to help clear plates from meal service into the kitchen.
Always remember, that just because a clause is written into the employment contract you’ve signed doesn’t mean it is legal. A written agreement in a contract must comply with employment law, and can’t be used to remove any of your statutory rights.
Disagreeing with Employment Contract Changes
If you disagree with changes proposed to your employment contract, it is really important that you communicate that clearly. If you do not and continue to work varied terms (e.g. work a changed time shift), then this could be seen as implied acceptance of the changes.
In order to clearly communicate disagreement to any changes, we recommend formally writing to your employer letting them know you object.
Should the matter later proceed to an Employment Tribunal, this letter will be treated as a written grievance.
You cannot be fired for disagreeing changes to your employment contract. If your employer did so, you would have a valid claim against them for unfair dismissal. This would be valid providing that you have worked for that employer for a minimum period of two continuous years.
Template Letter Objecting to Contract Changes
This is to inform you of my position in relation to the proposed changes to my employment contract.
Your have advised that you wish to make the following changes to my employment:
(E.g.) You wish to change my usual working hours from 6pm-10pm to 4pm-8pm
I object to these proposed change(s) for the following reasons:
(E.g.) I am unable to start work at 4pm at I have to pick up my son from school at 3:50pm and take him to my parents, who look after him in the evening. The school is 30 minutes drive away and I have no one else who can pick him up. My parents do not drive.[If you have any, it may help to resolve the situation to suggest a compromise.]
I understand that recent changes in the area mean that the business has been busier earlier and so you need staff to work from an earlier time. I’m unable to start work at 4pm, but if it would assist, I would be willing to change my working hours to work from 5pm to 9pm.
I hope that we can resolve this situation amicably and request a meeting at a mutually convenient time to discuss the matter further. I would want [name of another employee] to attend the meeting.
If You Can’t Reach Agreement
If you are unable to reach an agreement with your employer, you may need to take more formal steps. ACAS can help you enter early conciliation with your employer, and direct your progress to a tribunal claim if you are still unable to reach agreement.
You have 3 months minus 1 day– from the date of the issue arising to issue a claim at the Employment Tribunal. It is therefore really important that you deal with any issue promptly rather than just hoping it will go away You must notify ACAS– before you can take a matter to the Employment Tribunal. This can be by phone or online form An ACAS officer will then call you within 2 working daysto discuss the matter. You can refer them to any legal advisor if you prefer ACAS will offer you their Early Conciliation Service. Essentially they try to assist with communication between the parties to try to help you and your employer reach an agreement. The idea is that this is both cheaper and a lot quicker than going to the Employment Tribunal. If you do not wish to participate in conciliationyou do not have to do so. Alternatively if you try it and don’t reach an agreement, you can still go to the Tribunal. You need a reference number from ACASto put on your Tribunal claim form (ET1 form). If you do not include an ACAS reference number, the Court will not hear your claim.
If you need to refer the matter to the Employment Tribunal, you can seek free and independent help from your Trade Union or local Citizen Advice Bureau.
Non Contractual Changes
It is important to remember that not all changes to your employment contract are contractual. For example an employer can often change the criteria for giving out discretionary bonus without changing your contractual terms.
If you are unhappy with any proposed change however, speak to your employer. Explaining your concerns, may mean that you can reach a compromise.
Contract Change Case Studies
Below we’ve answered two quite typical questions from readers worried about being dismissed if they don’t agree to contract changes they are unhappy with.
The contract change case studies followed by a guide on how to disagree with changes, together with a letter template.
Case Study 1. Contract Being Changed to Annualised Hours
I have worked for the last 12 years for the same Company having gone to a 4 day working week approximately 6 years ago doing a 28hr week. The Company now wants to change to Annualised Hours Contracts. I will still be working 4 days a week but possibly doing 9.5hrs a day with a half hour break so doing possibly 38hrs over 4 days then during the winter months going to a possible 3 day week.
I do not agree with this change of contract and do not want to work these hours. Can the Company dismiss me if I refuse to sign a new contract as they seem to be inferring. What are my rights and what can I do please.
If the pattern of 4 days / 28 hours per week is expressly written in your employment contract, then this is a contractual term. It can only be altered with your agreement. If your employer dismisses you for disagreeing with proposed changes to a contractual term, then you will likely have a claim against them for unfair dismissal. For more on this, see below “If you can’t reach agreement”.
If the pattern of 4 days / 28 hours per week is not written in your employment contract then you may have more difficulty resisting the changes. Check exactly what is in your contract, as it may have a maximum number of hours. If you are unhappy with the changes, speak to your employer about your concerns. For example if they need staff to work 9.5 hours days, can you work less days?
Case Study 2. Company Says I’ll be dismissed if I Don’t Agree to Changes
I have been invited to my first consultation meeting regarding a change to our contracts to work 3 fixed bank holidays and move to 5 days instead of 4. Is there anything I can do to object to the bank holiday changes?
I have spoken to the company and they have offered no alternative. The company says this is needed in order to fulfill my role and could lead to my dismissal if I do not accept the changes.
Check what your employment contract says. Does it list your holiday as including bank holidays (eg 24 days plus bank holidays)? If so, you could refuse to work bank holidays, or at least require a day holiday in lieu.
If your employment contract does not require you to work bank holidays then you cannot be dismissed for refusing the change. However bear in mind that if this is now a legitimate requirement for the role, then by refusing you may force your employer to consider making you redundant.
Need any assistance with deciding if a change is contractual or non-contractual? Want help with objecting to a change? You can seek free and independent help from ACAS, your trade union, or local Citizens Advice Bureau.