This is often a very difficult subject, with the business seeing a need for new terms and conditions but fearing that to impose them will lead to Employment Tribunal claims for breach of contract writes employment lawyer Paul Housego of Beers LLP who specialise in the outsourced services sector. If the workforce won’t agree, the choice boils down to not doing it, and giving everyone 12 weeks notice of the ending of their existing contracts and the offering of a new one. But the law on this has been altered by a case in the Employment Appeal Tribunal – Bateman –v- Asda Stores Ltd., reported this month.
There are several conditions to meet, but if they are all satisfied (and most good employers will satisfy them) then the employer can impose a change to terms and conditions. Those changes can (again with some pre requisites) include not only non contractual matters, but can also include changes in contractual terms too. What is more if your contracts and handbooks are properly drafted, then you can impose new policies where none existed before. But if your handbooks contain only non contractual things, then there will be a problem in making contractual changes in this way.
It is essential that clear language is in your contracts if you wish to do this, and it is not carte blanche, for there is the implied term of mutual trust and confidence to be considered. Your handbook will need to contain a clause giving the ability to review revise amend or replace policies, and to introduce new policies. It is time to review your standard contracts of employment, and to check that yours fit the criteria set out in the case. Time and money spent with a good lawyer on the paperwork will pay dividends.
To put this case in perspective, 9300 of Asda’s employees accepted the changes Asda imposed and 8,700 did not – and there were 700 Employment Tribunal claims, this being a test case. If you would like more detail than a short article can convey, then you can obtain it free by emailing Paul Housego. The case itself can be found on the Employment Appeal Tribunal website.