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 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 some claims.
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?
Even if there is a term in your contract that says your employer can vary your terms of employment without your agreement, you may still be able to “protest” the change.
These clauses need to be very specific for your employer to be able to successfully rely on them. For example, 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 enforce this term by changing your contract without your agreement. If you are unhappy with the change, you should “protest” the change and seek legal advice.
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 case, think 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.
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 contract. You can refuse to accept the change, and 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.
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?
For many parents and carers, a proposed change may make it impossible for them to continue to balance their home and work arrangements. If you are in this situation, there are a number of options open to you.
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 you want to object to the proposed change but you are willing to carry on working, you can send your employer a Letter of Protest. The 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.
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.
Breach of contract: If your employer changes your contract without your agreement or without giving you the correct notice, this is called a breach of contract. This may mean you could make a legal claim against them. If you are still in your job, claims for breach of contract can only be made in the County Court (you can only bring a claim for breach of contract in the Employment Tribunal if your employment has ended). Be careful though – 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. For these reasons, 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 (but again, there is a risk that you will be ordered to pay your employer’s legal fees if you lose). You can only bring this claim in the Employment Tribunal if you are no longer employed by your employer. Usually if you win your claim at the Employment Tribunal, you will get only a small amount of money for a breach of contract. So in most cases, it is only worth going to Tribunal if you can claim constructive unfair dismissal and/or discrimination. For example, if you can’t agree to the change because of childcare responsibilities, you may be able to claim sex discrimination. See below for more information on this.
Unlawful deductions from wages: If your employer is trying to reduce your wages, you may have a claim for breach of contract and unlawful deductions from wages. Unlawful deductions claims can be brought in the Employment Tribunal.
Constructive dismissal: If you feel the change to your contract is so serious that you can no longer carry on working for your employer (for example a reduction in your rate of pay, a complete change to your duties or hours), you can resign as a result of that change, and claim that your employer has forced you to resign. This is known as a “constructive dismissal”. In other words, your employer’s action has left you with no choice but to resign. It is not enough to show that your employer behaved unreasonably. You have to show:
- that your employer’s conduct was in 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.
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 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’.
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 , 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, yes. Your 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 more, you 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 agreement, and 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:
- your place of work closes or moves, either temporarily or permanently;
- the type of work you do will no longer be done at your place of work; or
- 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 our Frequently 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.