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Changes to employment contracts

This advice applies to Wales

If your employer wants to change a term in your contract, this is called a 'variation of contract'.

Changes your employer might make

Changes your employer may want to make to the terms and conditions of your contract include:

  • pay cuts
  • changing your hours of work
  • your place of work
  • your job duties
  • entitlement to sick leave
  • fringe benefits or perks
  • contractual maternity rights
  • contractual redundancy rights

Pay cuts

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 any extra paid holiday you get on top of your statutory entitlement
  • reducing the amount of sick pay you can get on top of your statutory entitlement

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

If the business you work for has recently changed hands

If the business you work for is sold, your employment usually transfers to the new owner (although there are some exceptions to this). The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (TUPE) Regulations protect the statutory and contractual rights of employees who are transferred.

If you’ve been transferred to a new employer, they aren’t allowed to make a change to your contract if it’s directly related to the transfer. For example, they can’t reduce your pay because they pay someone who already works for them in a similar role less.

If your new employer wants to make changes to your contract you should talk to an adviser.

Variation clauses

Some contracts of employment contain a variation clause  that can allow your employer to make changes to your contract. Whether your employer can use this to make the changes they want depends on several things, such as how the clause is worded and the desired change.

They won’t be able to rely on it if it’d be a breach of the implied term of ‘trust and confidence’ - for example because the change was unreasonable or being introduced without notice. You can check what terms can be implied into a contract.

Your employer should tell you in advance if they want to use a variation clause to make a change to your contract

If you don't agree to a change

If you’re unhappy about a change to your contract and don't want to accept it, there are steps you should follow. When you contact your employer it’s always best to put things in writing, so you can keep a copy.

Say you’re working ‘under protest’

You should tell your employer that you’re working ‘under protest’ until the problem is resolved. This shows that you haven’t accepted the change, but you’re willing to try and sort things out.

It’s important that you do this as soon as you know about the change. If you don’t let your employer know straight away and you carry on working as normal, it might mean you’ll be seen as having agreed to it.

Say you won’t accept the change

Make it clear to your employer that you won’t accept the change. 

If your employer hasn’t given you any notice about the changes, or hasn’t consulted with you in any way, you should mention this. 

You should also ask about the reasons for the change and, if possible, suggest other ways of doing things that could meet your employer's needs without causing a problem for you.

If you want to keep working,say that you’ll keep working under protest until you’ve come to an agreement with your employer. 

Try to come to an agreement 

You need to try to sort things out as quickly as possible. If it takes a while and you carry on working, legally it could be taken to mean that you've agreed to the change - even if you’re working under protest.

If you can’t come to an agreement, you can think about making a claim to an employment tribunal, or suing your employer for breaking your contract (this is called ‘breach of contract’).

If you decide to resign

Before you resign, you should consider if you might be better off putting up with the change while you look for another job.

If the change seriously breaches your contract, you might be able to claim constructive dismissal in an employment tribunal after you resign.

If you think you’ve been discriminated against

Sometimes a change to your contract might be discriminatory, for example if you’re a disabled person and it causes a problem for you. 

If you think you might have been discriminated against, you can check if your problem at work is discrimination.

If your employer says you’ll be dismissed if you won’t agree to the variation

Your employer might dismiss you if you don’t agree. If they do, you might be able to claim unfair dismissal or redundancy. Check if your dismissal was unfair.

If your employer changes your contract by dismissing you and then offering you a new job with new terms, you should talk to an adviser to find out what you can do about this.

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