Changes to employment conditions
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.
What's a contract of employment?
A contract of employment is an agreement between you and your employer that outlines the rights and duties of both sides. If you haven't already done so, you might find it useful to read about contracts of employment.
What or who can change a contract of employment?
At some stage your employer or you might want to change your contract of employment. However, neither you or your employer can change your employment contract without each others' agreement. 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 - this is 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 example, if 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 if you are not a member of the trade union or staff association.
Reasons for changing an employment contract
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/shorter hours or 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 that was made 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 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
- Flexible working and work-life balance
- Holiday entitlements: the basics
- Part-time work
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' then your employer must give you a written statement that shows what has changed. This must take place within a month of the change.
Your contract may include what are known as 'flexibility clauses', which gives your employer the right to change certain conditions for example, shift patterns, or a 'mobility clause' which allows 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 completely 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.
What do you need to do if you want to change your contract?
If you want to make a change to your contract, speak to your employer and explain why. You can't insist on making changes unless they're covered by a legal 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.
What happens if your employer wants to change your contract?
If your employer wants to make changes to your contract, they should consult you or your representative (for example, a trade union official), explain the reasons and listen to alternative ideas.
Changes can be agreed directly between you and your employer, or through what is known as 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.
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 employer's name changes without any change to who your employer is (for example, if the company is renamed)
- your employer changes, but your job continues unaffected (such as during protected business transfers, also known as TUPE)
In these circumstances, you are entitled to be given individual written notice of the change at your employer's earliest opportunity. This must be no later than one month from the date of the change.
Where can you get help?
The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues. You can contact the LRA on 028 9032 1442 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday.
Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can provide free and impartial advice. You can find your local CAB office in the phone book or online.
Seek legal advice from a solicitor or advice agency on contract conditions.
- Seek legal advice from a solicitor or advice agency (do it online sction)
If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.