Home Advice for Parents & CarersFlexible Working Employer changed my terms of employment without consent – what are my rights? The law on imposed changes and “new for old” contracts

Employer changed my terms of employment without consent – what are my rights? The law on imposed changes and “new for old” contracts

Last updated: 8 October 2020

Sometimes employers want to make changes to your terms of employment. Your employer may ask for you to agree to changes which you are not happy with or are unfavorable for you such as cutting your hours, lowering you pay, changes to your place of work without giving you a benefit such as a payment for the change.

COVID-19 – Changes to Terms of Employment

Employers are changing terms at the moment because of the economic impact and rules in place to protect public health due to COVID-19. Employers have needed to make changes to adjust to make workplaces COVID secure or to allow for homeworking, but also have opted to do this as an alternative to redundancy, where there is a reduced demand for a particular type of work. Many employees who have been furloughed may be returning to work but find that their employer is now only offering shorter hours or lower pay.

Many of these changes will be temporary to follow government guidance e.g. full-time home-working or changes to hours to accommodate a staggered start and finish time if people need to attend a place of work.

TOP TIP: Whenever dealing with your employer over employment matters it’s always best to put things in writing, so you can keep a copy of all messages you send and keep a copy of their responses. When you write to your employer, if your employer hasn’t given you any notice about the changes, or hasn’t consulted with you in any way to seek your agreement you should mention this in your letter or email.

What are the rules around temporary or short-term changes to terms because of COVID-19?

The impact of changes that have been needed because of COVID-19 have not yet been tested in the Employment Tribunals and courts. Many people may accept Covid-19 related changes that they understand are on a temporary basis but unless this is clear and in writing, employers may seek to argue that they are or have become permanent. To protect against this, it is important to let your employer know that you are accepting any Covid-19 related changes on a short term basis but that once the health risk has lifted then you will expect to return to your existing contract.

If you are happy with the changes you may seek a more permanent arrangement and expressly request that this becomes permanent – see our flexible working guidance for more information.

My employer wants to change my hours, pay, place of work or duties. Are they allowed to do that without my agreement?   

Usually your employer needs your agreement to change your contract. You can refuse to accept the change, and your employer normally cannot force you to accept the change.   The first place to start is to understand what your employment contract says.

If you are happy with the change, you can agree to the new terms – make sure you agree the change in writing, and set out if the change is only intended to be temporary (or it will become a permanent change). 

However, for some working parents and carers, a change may be unworkable because of their caring responsibilities. 

If you are unhappy with the change, you can usually refuse. But there are some exceptions.  

The first thing to do is to look at the terms of your contract. You should check if there is any wording in the contract that say the employer can vary its terms without your agreement, and check if anything has been agreed orally. 

 All these factors will affect whether or not your employer can legally change your contract, and any claims you may be able to make against them. If you refuse to agree to the change but your employer insists, you may be able to bring claims – this is detailed below.  

Your employment contract

What are the terms of my contract?  Do I have a contract of employment even if I don’t have anything written down? 

All employers must give their employees and workers a document setting out the main conditions of their employment when they start work. This is known as a ‘written statement of employment particulars’ 

The written statement is made up of: 

  • the main document (known as a ‘principal statement’) 
  • a wider written statement 

The employer must provide the principal statement on the first day of employment, and the wider written statement within 2 months of the start of employment. 

Most employees will also get a written contract of employment setting out their main terms and conditions of employment.  

You should check these documents to see what they say about your hours/place/way of working. 

You should also think about what has been agreed orally between you and your employer. It is still part of the contract, even if it is not in writing. 

 If you have worked in a particular way for a period of time, with your employer’s approval, then this pattern of working may form part of your contract.  

There is a term in my contract of employment that says my employer can vary its terms. Does that mean my employer can change my contract without my agreement? 

You should look at your contract and check if there is any wording in the contract that say the employer can vary its terms without your agreement (often called a “variation clause”), and try to remember if anything has been agreed orally. If there is a variation clause, this only is generally allowed to be used for changes of a minor and non-detrimental nature.

If the employer wants to rely on a variation clause to change terms the clause must be clear, precise, specific e.g. if your employer wants to vary hours depending on demand this should be made clear at the outset. If your contract states your employer can amend any term of the contract, this may be far too wide–ranging and unspecific, so the employer could not change your contract without your agreement.

Variation clauses will only generally allow reasonable changes and even if there is a variation clause, if you are unhappy you may still be able to “protest” the change and seek legal advice.

For example, if your employer is seeking to change your hours or relocate you, whilst this might not appear to the employer to be a big change it may have a negative impact on you if it affects your childcare arrangements. This may give rise to a claim for unfair dismissal or indirect sex discrimination.

What if I don’t have a written contract of employment? Can my employer do what they want? 

Employers are required by law to provide a full written statement of particulars (a document stating the main conditions of employment) within 2 months of starting employment (see here for details). We know that some employers don’t provide this. In this casethink about what has been agreed orally between you and your employer. This is still a contract. If there has been no formal agreement, but you have worked in a particular way for a long time with the permission of your employer, you may be able to argue that your current arrangements are part of your contract. You may also be able to bring a claim against your employer for failure to provide employment particulars. You should seek legal advice if you are considering bringing a claim against your employer. 

How far in advance should my employer warn me of any contractual changes? 

Your employer should give you advance notice of any changes they want to make to your contract, and should consult with you beforehand. Usually, the required notice period for any change is the length of the notice to terminate the contract. Look at your contract and the clause that says “Notice”. It should give a specific period of time. If they give you this notice, they can potentially avoid a breach of contract claim (see below for more information on this claim). 

My employer changed a term in my contract a few months ago, but I didn’t think it was important because it didn’t have an immediate impact on me. I didn’t agree to the change, but I didn’t object either. Am I now stuck with these new terms? 

Not necessarily. In previous cases where a change to the employment contract did not have an immediate effect on an employee, the courts decided that the fact that an employee didn’t object to the change did not mean they were then bound by the contractual term. If this happens to you, you should make it clear to your employer now that you did not agree to the change, and that you continuing to work was not an agreement to the change. You should also seek legal advice. 

What if my trade union has agreed changes to my contract that I don’t agree with?  

An exception to the principle that you personally must agree to any changes to your contract is when a trade union makes agreements on behalf of all workers. If your contract says that a particular union can bargain on behalf of all the workers in a workplace, you may be bound to a change that the union agrees to on your behalf. This is still the case even if you personally don’t agree with the new contract term. You should seek legal advice if this is your situation, because you may still have other claims. 

Next Steps

My employer wants to change my hours, pay or duties. Are they allowed to do that without my agreement?   

Usually your employer needs your agreement to change your contractYou can refuse to accept the changeand your employer normally cannot force you to accept the change.  

 The exception to this is when there is a term in the contract (usually called a variation clause) that allows the employer to make changes without your agreement. Even if this is the case, your employer should give you reasonable notice of the change.

There may also be an exception if you’re in a unionised workplace.

If your employer is trying to change your employment contract without your agreement, see the question below on potential claims.

What can I do if my employer is changing the terms of my contract? Could I bring a claim in court or tribunal against them? 

If you and your employer agree to a change, the contract will be changed lawfully. If you have a “variation clause” e.g. around your hours or where you work your employer may be able to make certain changes (see above). There may also be an exception if you’re in a unionised workplace (see below).

How do Employers Change Terms without my Agreement?

Two ways employers usually try to make these changes:

  • You employer imposes (forces) the new terms without your agreement (“imposed change”); or
  • Your employer terminates your existing contract and offers you re-employment on new terms (“new for old”) – your employer may give you notice under your old contract and immediately offer you a new contract with the changed terms.

The options available and potential claims employees will have will differ depending on the route the employer has taken.

Imposed Terms

If your employment terms are changed/imposed without your agreement and where there is no flexibility/variation allowed for the employer to do this in the contract this is breach of contract and you have a number of choices, what you do next is important. The options are:

  • Do nothing and carrying on working making no objection;
  • Have informal discussions with your employer to seek agreement or compromise;
  • Let your employer know in writing, that you object to or “protest” the change (see template Letter of Protest);
  • Involve your union (if you are a member) to protest to the change on your behalf;
  • Stand and Sue (protest the change and bring claims against your employer depending on breach);
  • Refuse to work;
  • Depending on the seriousness of the change, terminate your employment and seek to claim constructive dismissal (Important: you should take advice before you do this – see warning at Constructive Dismissal below).

We always recommend having informal discussions with your employer with a view to reach agreement and compromise to preserve your employment where possible. The pandemic has put significant pressure on businesses, and many are struggling to survive. The changes your employer may be suggesting may be the only alternative to making redundancies and to keep the business going as a concern to secure your employment and that of your co-workers in the longer term. See our Covid Redundancy pages and general redundancy pages for more information.

Doing Nothing

If you carry on working and you (or your union) do not object or protest to the change of terms swiftly, this can be taken by the employer that you agree to the new terms. The timing of protesting the change is important. Each case will be taken on its own facts, your contract and the particular background will be relevant.

Informal Discussion with your Employer

As a first step, you should speak to your employer. Ask them about the reasons for the change, how long it will last, and if there is any room for negotiation. For example, your employer may want to move your place of work so that it is further away, which would cause you problems. But they may agree to change your hours so that you can more easily get to work, or allow you to work from home for part of the time so your total weekly journey time would still be the same. In practice, this is a negotiation. 

If your employer insists on the contractual change, then you may be able to bring a claim. What claims you can bring will depend on the change the employer is trying to make, as well as how long you have worked for your employer. 

Tell your employer you object

If you are prepared to continue to work but disagree with the change, you should tell your employer and state in writing that you’re working ‘under protest’ until the problem is resolved. This shows that you have not agreed but you are prepared to try and work things out informally with your employer. You object without delay as soon as you know about the change. If you carry on working as normal without telling your employer you don’t agree, it may be taken as evidence that you have agreed to the change. There may be some allowance where you try the new working arrangements and then protest once you realise the impact will be so adverse that you cannot accept it.

Your letter should state that you believe your employer has breached your contract of employment and that you are working under protest. If you have a union or an employee representative, they can make these protests on your behalf. This template Letter of Protest may help you. You may then continue to negotiate with your employer to seek to resolve the issue.

Is there a limit to how long I can work under protest for? 

It is difficult to say, because sometimes continuing to work might be seen as you accepting the change. But we think that as long as you make it clear that you do not accept the change even though you are continuing to work, you could protest for a reasonable amount of time. You should make it clear that you do not agree to the change in writing. In a case called Rigby v Ferodo [1988], employees managed to protest the change to their employment contracts for a number of months. Every case will be different and there is no strict time limit – the important thing is to protest in writing. It may be wise to re-confirm your protest every few weeks. This is an area of law where the limits are not clear cut. You should seek legal advice if you are in this situation.

Refuse to work on the new terms

This is the next stage, if you can’t work under protest you may choose tell your employer that you won’t accept the change.  An example of this may be where you have been told that your shift has changed to a night shift and you don’t have childcare. You should ask your employer why they are making these changes and suggest alternatives that you could do. 

If you reject the change and refuse to comply with the new terms, you would continue to work in accordance with your existing or original terms of employment. However, you may be putting your employment relationship at risk and your employer may start disciplinary or dismissal proceedings against you. If you were to be dismissed, depending on the circumstances and the seriousness of the change, you may have a claim for wrongful dismissal, unfair dismissal or even discrimination . You should seek legal advice if you are considering this option and bringing a claim against your employer. It may be that a dismissal in these circumstances are seen as fair, depending on the reason for the change.

“Standing and Sueing”

If you cannot come to an agreement in inform discussions or consultation with your employer, and you do not want to resign you have the option refuse to work under the new terms, or to work under protest and “stand and sue”. This means carry on working under the new terms and make clear you object to the change (see above) and then pursue your claims in the Employment Tribunal or Civil Court. If you choose to ‘stand and sue’ you must actually work to the new terms.

Pay Cut: If the change is a pay cut or pay related/change to holidays/benefits, you may have a claim for unlawful deduction from wages which you can pursue in the Employment Tribunal.

Breach of Contract: If the change is a contractual change not involving pay e.g. change to hours or place of work, and you want to stay in your role, you would need to bring a claim against your employer in the civil courts. An employee cannot bring a breach of contract claim in the tribunal whilst employed. Be careful though – Claims in the civil courts carry the risk of costs if they fail and even if you win a breach of contract claim, you will most likely only get a small amount of money. If you lose, you may be required to pay your employer’s legal fees.

In practice, it can be quite awkward to bring a claim against someone you are still working for. See our section on Tribunal claims for more information.

For these reasons, unless it is for a significant amount, it is often not worth bringing a breach of contract claim unless you can combine it with another claim – perhaps for unfair dismissal or discrimination. For example, if you can’t agree to the change because of childcare responsibilities, you may be able to claim sex discrimination.

If the changes are being made in the wider workplace, you may consider joining a union and encouraging others to join so as to take collective action.

Constructive Dismissal

If the contractual change is so serious that it is a fundamental breach and you feel you have no choice but to resign you may decide to bring a claim for constructive dismissal. This is a high-risk option and you should seek legal advice.

We would not recommend resigning, but rather to continue to work under protest and seek to reach agreement whilst protecting your employment wherever possible. This is because in constructive dismissal, it is for you to prove that your employer’s breach of contract was so serious that you considered the contract was terminated by your employer. There is no guarantee the Tribunal will agree with you.

If you decide to take this route, you must state that your employers breach of contract was so serious that you have no choice, you can no longer work for your employer and state that you have been forced to resign. You should set out the background to what has happened and why this was such a fundamental breach for you. To prove constructive dismissal, it is not enough to show that your employer behaved unreasonably. You have to show:

  •  that your employer’s conduct was in fundamental breach of your employment contract; and   
  • that it was your employer’s actions which caused you to resign – or was the main reason for your resignation (not some other reason, such as being offered another job).  

For more details on constructive dismissal, see our page. In most circumstances, you can only bring a claim at the Employment Tribunal for constructive dismissal if you have been employed by your employer for at least 2 years. There is an exception if you have been discriminated against, or if your employer is imposing a change to your contract because you have exercised a statutory right. In that case, you can bring a claim against your employer regardless of how long you have worked for them, because the dismissal would be ‘automatically unfair’. You should get legal advice before resigning, as these claims are very difficult to bring. 

Financial Warning: From a financial point of view, as soon as you resign to allege constructive dismissal your employment relationship and your contract is over immediately as you would not give notice and you would therefore no longer be entitled to pay or benefits under the contract. You instead would need to bring a claim against your employer to recover any monies you believe you are owed e.g. your notice pay and any holiday pay.

Timing is key: if you choose to resign because you really feel you have no choice it is important that you do not delay, or this may be taken as evidence that you have agreed to the breach of contract or it undermines your argument that it is so serious a breach. If you decide this is your only option, when you terminate your contract to claim unfair dismissal, you must make it clear (in writing) that you had to resign and consider the contract to have been terminated immediately because of the employers actions (rather than resigning in accordance with the contract), otherwise you may not be able to claim constructive dismissal.

Is this in fact a dismissal by the employer?

Where the change imposed is so radical that the employer is making, you may seek to argue that you have been dismissed under the original contract (rather than needing to resign) and that you have been re-engaged under new terms. The argument is that there is a “deemed dismissal”. You could then seek to bring an unfair dismissal claim in respect of the original contract. However, to bring any claim in a tribunal against your employer may make your continued employment very difficult and you should seek advice before doing this.

Unfair dismissal 

If you refuse to agree to the change to your employment contract and your employer dismisses you as a result, you may be able to claim unfair dismissal. You can only make a claim for unfair dismissal if you have been employed by your employer for at least 2 years. There is an exception to the 2 year rule if you have been discriminated against or your employer is imposing a change to your contract because you have exercised a statutory right. In that case, you can bring a claim against your employer regardless of how long you have worked for them, because the dismissal would be ‘automatically unfair’. 

What are my rights with “New for Old” change of contract?

Sometimes employers want their employees to change their hours or other working arrangements. For example, they no longer want an employee to work from home, or to work at a different office or factory, or to change their hours. If a change is of great importance to your employer and it cannot be agreed, your employer may give notice to terminate your old contract and offer you a contract on the new terms. If the employer fails to follow a fair procedure in doing this, it may give rise to unfair dismissal and discrimination  claims.

However, the offer of re-engagement may mitigate (lessen) your loss which will limit what you can claim.

Depending on the number of employees affected by this there may be collective consultation obligations

Collective consultation

If your employer is proposing to dismiss (and re-engage) 20 or more employees, the collective consultation obligations under section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 will apply. For further information, see our covid redundancy pages. As collective consultation requires an employer to meet very specific obligations, you should take legal advice if your employer has failed to follow these rules, as you may have a claim for a protective award. Failure to comply with the collective consultation obligations may result in the employer being ordered to pay a protective award of up to 90 days’ actual pay to each affected employee.

Should my employer consult with me over the changes?

Consultation is where your employer will discuss any changes it plans to make with you with a view to work together to agree those changes. It is a key part of any redundancy process and should happen where an employer is seeking to change terms. It can happen between the individual employee and the employer or collectively with employee representatives or a trade union. Your employer should be trying to speak to agree changes first as this is important to the term of trust and confidence in the employment relationship.

The level and timing of consultation will vary depending on the number of people who are affected by the proposed changes, the size of your employer and the effect of the changes. If your employer fails to consult, and you do not accept the new terms, this will go towards your potential claims against your employer.

Depending on the number of employees who are affected by the change of terms, if there are 20 or more, there may be a duty on your employer to collectively consult. You should seek advice if this is the case. 

Is there a limit to how long I can work under protest for? 

It is difficult to say, because sometimes continuing to work might be seen as you accepting the change. But we think that as long as you make it clear that you do not accept the change even though you are continuing to work, you could protest for a reasonable amount of time. You should make it clear that you do not agree to the change in writing. In a case called Rigby v Ferodo [1988], employees managed to protest the change to their employment contracts for a number of months. Every case will be different and there is no strict time limit – the important thing is to protest in writing. It may be wise to re-confirm your protest every few weeks. This is an area of law where the limits are not clear cut. You should seek legal advice if you are in this situation.

I would agree to the change, but I can’t because of childcare – what can I do? I am a woman. 

If your employer tries to make you work different hours or in a different place, and you cannot comply because of your childcare responsibilities, then you may have a claim for indirect sex discrimination if you are a woman. Statistics show that more women than men shoulder the main responsibility for childcare in society in general. As a result, a change in hours of work may have a worse effect on female employees than it does on male employees. If you are a woman, you may be able to argue that your employer is indirectly discriminating against you by insisting you change your hours. 

However, if your employer can show there is a really good business reason for the change and that their actions are a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim, then your claim would not be successful. To do this, they would have to clearly show: 

  • that there was a genuine business reason for the change; and 
  • that it was necessary to change your particular way of working, taking into account the effect on you personally, of the proposed change. 

So, even if there was a genuine need for the change your employer would need to look at other ways of organising the work so that you personally did not have to change, for example, employing an additional part-timer to work on Saturdays instead of requiring you to do it. 

I would agree to the change, but I can’t because of childcare – what can I do? I am a man.  

Men are unable to claim indirect sex discrimination due to childcare reasons. But they can claim direct sex discrimination if they can prove that the employer treated them less favourably than women. Fathers can make a claim for direct sex discrimination if women in their organisation are being given more flexibility than they are. So if your employer is making a change to working hours but are making an exception for female employees, you could have a claim if they do not do the same for you.

You may also be able to make a claim if you can show that if there was a woman in your situation, she would be treated better.  You should seek legal advice before making this argument.

I feel have run out of options, is there anything I can do to make my employer re-consider the change they are trying to impose on me?  

The first thing you should do is try to negotiate with your employer. For example, your employer may want to move your place of work so that it is further away which would cause you problems. They may however be willing to adjust your hours so that you can more easily get to work or offer that you could work from home for part of the time so your total weekly journey time would still be the same. 

If this doesn’t work, consider writing a letter of protest detailing why you don’t agree the change.   

A further option, if you have 26 weeks service, is to consider submitting a statutory flexible working request.

If you put in a flexible working request, there is a risk that this will be taken to mean that you accept the change that they have suggested and that you are now requesting to change the contract again. This will make it difficult or impossible to bring certain types of claims. So if you put in a flexible working request, you should make it clear that you are making the request on the basis that you do not accept the changes made to your contract. You should do this by writing on the front of the application “This application is made on the basis that I object to the change being made and that I do not agree the change is lawful”. See our page on how to make a statutory flexible working request.

Losing or leaving your job 

What is the risk if I don’t agree to a change in my contract – can my employer dismiss me? 

Unfortunately, yesYour employer could choose to dismiss employees who refuse to agree to the changes to their employment contract. They would still need to follow a fair procedure if they are dismissing you If you are dismissed because you refused to agree to a change in your contract or you refused to sign a new contract, and you have been employed for two years or moreyou may have a claim for unfair dismissal.

An Employment Tribunal would look at all the factors surrounding the change and the decision to dismiss you to decide if the dismissal was unlawful, including: 

  • the employer’s reasons for the change  
  • the way in which the dismissal was carried out  

 A change in the business, or your employer wanting to harmonise terms and conditions can be a fair reason for dismissal. Tribunals give employers a lot of discretion about how best to run their business.  

But your dismissal would be unfair if you could show that you were dismissed because of sex discrimination (see above). If discrimination has occurred, you also don’t need two years’ service to bring a claim. You should seek legal advice if this happens to you. 

My employer changed my contractual terms, which made it impossible for me to carry on working so I resigned as a result. Do I have any rights?  

If your employer made a significant change to your contract without your agreementand you resigned as a direct result of this change, you may be able to argue that your employer’s insistence on the change effectively ended the contract and left you with no choice except to resign. In legal terms this is called a constructive dismissal. If a tribunal is satisfied that your employer’s actions were effectively a dismissal, it will then go on to consider whether the dismissal was unfair.  Constructive dismissal can be complicated and difficult to prove, so you should always seek legal advice before resigning. 

My employer says if I don’t agree to the change, I will be at risk of redundancy. Is that right? 

It depends on the circumstances. A genuine redundancy only happens for one of three reasons: 

  1. your place of work closes or moves, either temporarily or permanently;
  2. the type of work you do will no longer be done at your place of work; or
  3. fewer employees are needed to do the particular type of work that you do. 

If none of these apply, then you should not be made redundant. 

If a genuine change in the nature of your employer’s business means that there is less need for employees to do the type of work you do in the place of work where you do it, you should normally be offered redundancy. If your employer changes your place of work and the contract doesn’t allow this, you may be made redundant. 

However, redundancy does not apply to where you are being asked to do more hours, or to work at different times. 

If there is a redundancy situation, your employer would have to follow the usual fair redundancy procedure, and you would be entitled to a redundancy payment if you have more than two years’ service. If you are singled out for redundancy and you suspect you have been selected instead of others because of your working hours or childcare responsibilities, this could be unfair and discriminatory.  Please seek legal advice. 

There is more information on our redundancy webpage. We also have advice on what to do if you are under threat of redundancy

You may also want to have a look at ourFrequently Asked Questions on flexible work and imposed change. 


This advice applies in England, Wales and Scotland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

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