As an employee, once you have signed a contract of employment it is understandable to expect this to be the final position which will not change. However, as your employer’s business changes, occasionally this will impact on employees and require variations to the terms of your contract.
Your contract may include a term that provides that your employer may vary your contract without your approval. This will permit employers to make minor changes, for example to reflect pay increases. However, for any change of significance such as changing your place of work or removing a company benefit, even with such a provision an employer is not permitted to vary your contract without your approval. If your employer is proposing a change, they should first consult with you to obtain your agreement to the proposed variation. If following consultation the change is approved by you then any variation will need to be in writing.
If however, you do not agree to the variation, and your employer goes ahead and makes the variation without your agreement, this is known as a unilateral variation. You should have a good reason for not wanting to agree to the change, and as an employee you should fully engage in the consultation process with your employer. This will hopefully help employees understand what the business rationale is and why the employer wishes to make the change.
If an employer forces a unilateral change to your contract of employment, you may want to consider raising a formal grievance. Alternatively, if the employer has committed a fundamental breach, an employee could have a claim for constructive unfair dismissal. Additionally, subject to the number of employees effected, there could be collective consultation obligations which would include a requirement for a minimum period of consultation before the change is implemented.
A member of our specialist employment team will be able to advise you of your options and potential outcomes.