Home Advice for Parents & CarersImposed Changes My employer wants to change my hours or location – what are my rights?

My employer wants to change my hours or location – what are my rights?

Last updated: 28 May 2021

Sometimes employers want to make changes to your terms of employment, such as your working hours or where you work. Your employer may ask for you to agree to changes that you are not happy with or are unfavourable to you – for instance, reducing or changing your hours or changes to your place of work. Legally, this is called ‘imposed change’.

If employers cannot get their employees to agree changes, they may use ‘new for old’ contracts or ‘fire and rehire’ tactics. Typically, this involves serving notice to terminate the existing employment contract and an offer employment on new terms, which may be less favourable. In this article, we explain your rights when your employer tries to change your terms of employment.

This is a very complicated area of the law, so we recommend that you seek legal advice on your options without delay.

Imposed change

There are two ways an employer can try to make changes to your contract without your agreement:

  • Your employer imposes new terms on you (called ‘imposed changes’)
  • Your employer terminates your existing contract and offers you re-employment on new terms (called ‘new for old’ or ‘fire and re-hire’)

If your employer tries to impose different terms on you, the required notice period for any change is the length of notice to terminate your contract. Check your contract to make sure that your employer has warned you far enough in advance of the contractual changes. If they have not given you the correct notice, you may have a breach of contract claim (see below).

Your rights if your employer changes your contract

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.

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 may 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 – for instance, if your contract allows your employer to make the change.  

The first place to start is to understand your rights in your employment contract. You should check your contract for wording that allows your employer to make the type of change they want to make. If your contract says that your employer can make the specific change that they want to make, then you may not have a right to protest it.

You should also check if there is any wording in the contract that says your employer can vary its terms without your agreement (called a ‘variation’, ‘mobility’, or ‘flexibility’ clause).

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 your employer does not have the right to make the change they are requesting, and you refuse to agree to the change but your employer insists, you may be able to bring claims – this is detailed below. 

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

If you are unsure whether your employer has the right to make the change, you should seek advice

My contract does not accurately describe my hours/location

If your contract is outdated or does not accurately reflect how you work, you should also think about what is the agreed practice between you and your employer. Your working pattern may still be part of the contract, even if it is not in writing.

If you have worked a certain pattern or in a particular location for a long time with your employer’s approval, then this pattern of work may form part of your contract through ‘custom and practice’ even if it is not in writing.

‘Custom and practice’ terms are often unwritten. This type of term could become part of the employment contract, if it is regularly adopted (e.g., a regular practice for a significant period of time) and is customary in your workplace.

For example, an employee could expect to continue working 9am to 5pm, even if their contract says their hours are on a shift basis, if they have been working that way with their employer’s agreement for a significant period of time. However, if you are only working 9am to 5pm temporarily to help you arrange childcare, then it is unlikely that this temporary change would form a permanent term of your contract.

I don’t have a written contract

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

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’ 

Employers must provide a principal statement on the first day of employment, and the wider written statement within 2 months of the start of employment. If you haven’t received one, you can request one.

You should also think about what has been agreed verbally between you and your employer. It is still part of the contract, even if it is not in writing. If you have worked a certain pattern or in a particular location for a long time with your employer’s approval, then this pattern of work may form part of your contract through ‘custom and practice’ even if it is not in writing.

‘Custom and practice’ terms are often unwritten. This type of term could become part of the employment contract, if it is regularly adopted (e.g., a regular practice for a significant period of time) and is customary in your workplace.

For example, an employee could expect to continue working 9am to 5pm, even if their contract says their hours are on a shift basis, if they have been working that way with their employer’s agreement for a significant period of time. However, if you are only working 9am to 5pm temporarily to help you arrange childcare, then it is unlikely that this temporary change would form a permanent term of your contract.

My contract has a variation or flexibility clause

If there is a variation clause, this only is generally allowed to be used for reasonable changes of a minor and non-detrimental nature.

The variation or flexibility clause usually must be very specific in order for the employer to use it. For instance, if your employer wants you to work weekends, but you have never before worked weekends, the clause should say the employer reserves the right to ask you to work weekends under certain circumstances.

Employers are unlikely to be able to rely on broadly written flexibility clauses to make anything other than minor administrative changes that are not detrimental to you. For instance, your contract might say broadly that your employer reserves the right to change your hours of work. If that is the case, they may not be able to require you to work weekends if you have never done so before, if that change would be detrimental to you (e.g., because you do not have childcare arrangements).

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. Depending on the nature of the change, and its impact on you, you therefore may still be able to protest the change (see below) and make a claim even if your contract has a variation or flexibility clause.

If you are unsure, you should seek advice.

My employer wants to end our flexible working agreement

Flexible working agreements made after a statutory flexible working request form a permanent change to your contract, even if this is not written. If you work flexibly and you never made a statutory request, the change may also have become a part of your contract through custom and practice. See ‘My contract does not accurately describe my hours/location’ above.

If you have a flexible working agreement in place, your employer can only change your flexible working agreement with your consent. If you do not agree to the change, you can protest and bring claims against your employer (see below).

If you are unsure, you should seek advice.

Changes agreed during COVID-19

Many employers are having to change terms because of the economic impact and rules in place to protect public health due to COVID-19. Employers may need to make changes to adjust to make workplaces COVID secure or to allow for homeworking, or may have opted to change contracts 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 offering different 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.

The impact of changes that have been needed because of COVID-19 have not yet been tested in the Employment Tribunal. 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.

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.

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.

Your options if your employer changes your contract

If your terms are changed without agreement, and there is no clause in your contract allowing your employer to do so, then this may be a breach of contract.

In this case, your options are:

  • Do nothing and carry on working the new hours, making no objection.
  • Negotiate with your employer to seek agreement or compromise.
  • Continue working under protest and consider bringing claims against your employer, depending on the breach. To do this, you need to let your employer know in writing that you object to the change. We have a sample Letter of Protest.
  • Refuse to work the new terms, and continue working your old terms
  • Resign from employment and seek to claim constructive dismissal. Please note that you should always take legal advice before you do this.

If you are a member of a union, you can also involve your union to protest to the change on your behalf.

Working under protest

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.

Refusing to work on the new terms

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.

Choosing to resign

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 (see more below). 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.

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.

Potential claims

If your employer tries to force you to accept new terms of employment, or dismisses you and tries to offer you new employment, you may have a number of claims you can bring against them.

Note that claims in the Employment Tribunal can be complex and take a long time to resolve. There are also strict time limits. You should seek advice before deciding to start a claim, or follow the steps outlined below.

Breach of contract

If your employer tries to change your terms of employment without your agreement, and they do not have the right to make the change under your contract, you may have a claim for breach of contract.

If you are still employed and working under protest, you would need to bring a claim for breach of contract against your employer in the civil courts. 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 hard to bring a claim against your current employer because your relationship is likely to break down. For these reasons, unless it is for a significant amount, it is often not worth bringing a breach of contract claim if you are still employed, and unless you can combine it with another claim in the Employment Tribunal (i.e. unfair dismissal, discrimination or constructive dismissal).

Unfair dismissal

If your employer tries to force you to accept the change and dismisses you if you do not accept the change, depending on the circumstances you may have a claim for unfair dismissal if you have been employed for two years or more.

It may be a dismissal if an employer makes a substantial change to the terms and conditions of your contract, meaning that you have effectively been dismissed and re-hired under a new contract. In this circumstance (‘fire and re-hire’), you may also have a claim for unfair dismissal even though you are still employed.

Your employer may be able to justify their actions, however, so if you are dismissed or forced into accepting new terms of employment, we recommend that seek further advice straight away.

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 bring a claim for constructive dismissal. This is a high-risk option, and you should seek legal advice first.

We would not recommend resigning, but rather 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).  

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’

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.

Discrimination

If you are a woman, you may be able to claim indirect sex discrimination in relation to this change if it were forced upon you but subjected you to a detriment due to your childcare reasons.

If your employer can show that there is a good business reason for the change and that their actions are proportionate, then it is unlikely that a claim for discrimination would be successful. Your employer would have to clearly show:

  • That there was a genuine business reason for the change
  • That it was necessary to change your way of working, considering the effect on you personally.

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 certain days instead of requiring you to do it.

Unlawful deduction of wages

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

What to do next

Try to negotiate and resolve things

We recommend having discussions with your employer first with a view to reach an agreement and compromise to preserve your employment where possible.

You can also consider submitting a statutory flexible working request. However, 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 (e.g., constructive dismissal).

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 that the change is lawful”. Please see our page for more information on how to make a request here: Flexible working and the right to request – Working Families

Raise a grievance

If the discussions with your employer don’t resolve the issue, or you think your employer has treated you very unfairly and the relationship is breaking down, you can consider raising a grievance

Raising a grievance is important if you think you might later raise a claim in the Employment Tribunal because failure to follow internal resolution methods can disadvantage your claim. 

It is often advisable to try and resolve things amicably, as formal processes can damage your relationship with your employer. For legal insight into grievances and tips on how to engage with your employer before it reaches this point, see our article on how grievances do more harm than good.

Your employer should not ignore your grievance, fail to hear it within a reasonable time or reject it out of hand (as doing so could amount to a breach of your employment contract). However, your employer is not obliged to uphold your complaint.

If you are unhappy with the outcome of your grievance, you should normally be able to appeal it; the procedure will be set out in your employer’s grievance policy. If you are unhappy with the outcome of the appeal process, you can contact us for advice.

Alternatively, if you cannot resolve this informally or via grievance, and you cannot work at the new location or at home, you may think about bringing claims against your employer.

Make a claim in the Employment Tribunal

If you cannot come to an agreement, if your employer dismisses you or you feel forced to resign, you can consider a claim against your employer in the Employment Tribunal. See above for the possible claims you can bring.

If you want to submit an Employment Tribunal claim, it is important that you are aware that there is a strict time limitation to do so – you must bring a claim within three months less a day of the date your change occurred (for breach of contract), the date of your dismissal (for unfair dismissal), or the date of the acts complained of (for discrimination).

In order to start the process of making a claim, you must first contact ACAS to start early conciliation.

The process can be complex, so we strongly recommend seeking legal advice if you choose to do this.

For further details of the process for bringing an Employment Tribunal claim please see our articles on starting a claim.

Frequently asked questions

Below are some of the most common questions we recieve on our helpline about imposed change.

Can my employer dismiss me if I don’t agree to a change in my contract? 

Unfortunately, yes. Your employer can 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 discrimination. 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. 

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. 

My employer changed a term in my contract a few months ago and I didn’t object

It depends. Normally, you should 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.

However, in cases where a change to the employment contract did not have an immediate effect on an employee, the courts found that an employee’s failure to object did not mean that they were then bound by the contractual term.

If this happens to you, you should make it clear to your employer as soon as possible 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. 

How long can I work under protest?

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 Letter of Protest.

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

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. 

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.

What if my trade union has agreed to changes to my contract?  

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 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. 

For more information, see our article on the Law when a Collective Bargaining Agreement Changes your Contract.

My employer changed my terms, which made it impossible for me to work so I resigned

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: 

  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 page. We also have advice on what to do if you are under threat of redundancy

My employer has tried to fire and re-hire me, should I take the new job?

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-employment may mitigate (lessen) your loss which will limit what you can claim in an Employment Tribunal, depending on your circumstances. It may reduce the amount of money you may be awarded if you bring a claim against your employer.

If you are offered re-employment, you should seek advice before deciding whether to accept or reject the offer.

My employer is imposing changes on more than 20 employees

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.

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.

 


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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The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.