Contracts of employment are the cornerstone of employment law.
Experience in Contract Law
Contracts of employment are the cornerstone of employment law. From time to time, your employer will look to make a change to your terms and conditions. When your employer approaches you with this, you are faced with a dilemma – should you accept or refuse?
Clearly, some changes may have a minor impact and, whilst you may not be happy based on principle, you may finally agree to accept. However, in other cases, the change will have a significant impact on you and your family, such as a change of pay, change of workplace or working hours. Your question is then – do I have to accept the change and, if I don’t, what will happen?
When you are faced with this conundrum, taking legal advice is essential. Most employees’ natural instinct is to refuse any change however, if you are not properly advised, unreasonably refusing to accept a change can irreparably damage your relationship with your employer and ultimately cost you your job. This is because some changes will be lawful and fair. That said, others will be a breach of your employment contract giving you the right to bring an employment tribunal claim. It is important to understand that once you accept a change, it is very difficult to unpick it and argue that your old terms apply. Further, this will usually result in you losing your rights to claim breach of contract.
Entering a Contract
When you start new employment or your employer changes your employment contract, we recommend you conduct a detailed contract review to ensure you know what you are agreeing to. For example, is a bonus or share scheme contractual or discretionary? Can your employer lawfully change your duties or reporting line?
A valid employment contract is a legally binding agreement between you and your employer. The written terms will set out each party’s respective obligations, but you should also be aware that further terms are implied by law.
It is important to ensure that any contract reflects what is happening in practice as disputes on agreed terms are frequent. This is becoming more common in the “gig” economy where employers try to label a worker as “self-employed” to avoid providing them with sick pay or other benefits.
Changing your Contract
If your employer attempts to change your terms and conditions, it is important to understand your rights. Whilst some changes may be minor, others, such as a change of pay, workplace or working hours may significantly impact you. Do take legal advice in order to understand your rights and the implications of accepting or refusing any proposed changes.
Unreasonably refusing to accept a change, which is lawful and fair, could irreparably damage your relationship with your employer and ultimately result in dismissal. However, some changes will be a breach of your contractual rights. This will give you grounds to reject the change and, if necessary, bring an employment tribunal claim.
Why Use Trethowans?
Employment contract law is complex and fast-changing. Each situation is unique but our solicitors have the skills and experience to achieve a successful outcome for you. We don’t sit on the fence. We will give you clear advice and direction, explain your options and importantly, help you to make informed decisions. Trethowans’ employment lawyers advise both individuals and businesses. As such, we can offer a deeper insight into your employer’s approach and response.
With extensive experience of guiding clients through difficult employment relationships, our employment solicitors understand that difficulties in the workplace can have a significant impact on your life. We are down-to-earth, honest lawyers who take time to get to know you and your situation.
We are a leading Firm recognised in the Legal 500 2023 and Chambers and Partners 2023. The Employment Team is also ranked for Employment Law in the South.
For expert advice on negotiating, changing, or enforcing your employment contract, don’t hesitate to contact our team of experienced employment solicitors on 0800 2800 421.
Our employment contract solicitors can:
- Draft contracts, including share incentive schemes and bonus provisions.
- Advise on the validity of your contract and its terms.
- Negotiate or challenge changes to your contract.
- Advise on your rights when you don’t have a written contract.
- Advise on the enforceability of restrictive covenants.
- Confirm whether an employer’s proposed change is lawful or not.
- Advise on how to lawfully resist a change to your contract.
Employment Contract Law FAQs
I have been offered a new job but don’t understand what some of the terms mean for me, what should I do?
We recommend you take employment law advice from our employment solicitors who can undertake a detailed contract review, clarify any uncertainties, ensure you understand the contract and advise accordingly. For example, when can your employer withhold your bonus? How does the share scheme work? Can your employer lawfully change your duties or reporting line?
What are restrictive covenants?
Restrictive covenants are legally binding promises affecting how you will act after your employment ends. These often include an agreement not to poach or work with colleagues, clients, suppliers or customers after you leave. You may also be agreeing not to work for a competing business. When drafted correctly, these can have a significant impact on your future employment prospects. Whether such clauses are legally enforceable is nuanced and highly fact-specific. Please so do speak to one of our employment contract solicitors to understand the full implications of your restrictive covenants.
I have no contract of employment, what are my rights?
Just because you don’t have a written contract, it does not mean that a contract doesn’t exist. Contracts can be written, verbal or even implied by the relevant parties acting consistently in a way that suggests a contract exists. In this case, you will still have contractual and other employment rights. If you think you have mutual obligations to receive and perform work with another person or business, it is worth reaching out to one of our team who can advise you on your employment status and rights.
How to give notice at work?
Deciding to leave your job is a big step, and it requires careful consideration. You will be required to give a certain amount of notice which is usually set out in your employment contract but, minimum notice periods are also determined by law. It is always worth giving notice in writing to show evidence of what has and has not been said. If you give too little notice, you could be in breach of your employment contract, so it is worth checking your obligations before taking any action.
Can my employer change my contract?
Your employer can change your contract in certain circumstances. What they can lawfully do largely depends on what your contract currently says and the impact of the change. There are also some legally imposed conditions surrounding how they do this. For example, they may need to consult with you prior to making any changes. A forced change, without any consultation, will rarely be lawful but there are a lot of factors to consider. If you think you are being treated unfairly, you should seek advice from one of our employment solicitors.
Can my employer reduce my contracted hours?
Maybe. It is rare for a contract to allow a change without any discussion or consent from you, but it all depends on what is in your contract and what process your employer follows. Assuming the change is provided for in your contact, your employer still needs to give you sufficient notice of the change, commonly at least 1 weeks’ notice is needed. If your contract doesn’t allow the change, then it may be unlawful.
When does a bonus become contractual?
Bonuses and commission are an important incentive for employees and, in some cases, can make up a significant part of your pay package. Most employers emphasise that a bonus is discretionary and not contractual. However, a bonus labelled as ‘discretionary’ could become contractual if that discretion is not actually exercised in practice, for example, if it has been paid consistently over a long period of time. If you have suddenly had your bonus withdrawn after many regular payments, it is worth seeking advice.
What is breach of contract?
A breach of contract is where the employee or employer breaks one of the terms within the employment contract. A breach of contract could be in the form of an act or a failure to act. Given that some terms can be implied rather than written, it isn’t always clear whether there has been a breach. If you think your employer might have broken their contractual duties to you, our employee solicitors can advise you on your rights and remedies.
What are agency workers rights?
As an agency worker, you have certain rights from the start of employment. These include protection against discrimination, being paid the National Minimum Wage, statutory sick pay and paid holiday. In addition, if you have worked on the same assignment for 12 weeks or more, your rights increase. This includes being offered comparable terms and conditions of employment as your permanently employed colleagues.