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Agreeing or imposing changes

A reduction in hours or salary or changes to hours or patterns of work is a contractual change – you can’t just impose it without significant risk. The same applies for lay-off or short-time working where there is no existing contractual right to impose these.

In summary, the process that an employer should follow to implement these measures is as follows:

  1. Communicate the Company’s position clearly and the urgent need to achieve temporary cost-saving to ensure the ongoing financial viability of the organisation
  2. Explain the proposed changes in detail and seek the employee’s agreement, and
  3. Record the agreed changes in a letter which is counter-signed by the employee.

If employees will not agree then employers will be at substantial risk of claims for unlawful deduction of wages, breach of contract and/or constructive unfair dismissal if they seek to impose these changes unilaterally. Employers should be mindful that this approach is likely to cause significant employee relations issues and dissatisfaction if only some employees agree to a reduction in pay. Employers should have a clear strategy for what their approach will be if this is the case – for example, they may wish to instead explore a different measure such as redundancies. This may form part of the employer’s communication when explaining the reason for the changes and seeking the employee’s agreement.

Unions: Employers should also be aware that where there is a recognised trade union in respect of any part of the workforce which is being asked to agree to a change to terms and conditions, the recognition agreement or collective agreement will require the employer to consult and/or negotiate with the trade union in the first instance.

Collective consultation: Where 20 or more dismissals are proposed at one establishment in any 90-day period, there are stringent collective consultation rules which apply (regardless of whether the employees have two years’ service or not). All dismissals count towards this total unless the dismissal is “not related to the individual concerned” – therefore dismissals for things such as conduct or capability do not count, but most other dismissals will count. This will include where you are imposing changes to the contract such as reduced hours or pay.

The rules on collective consultation set out a prescriptive and time-consuming process which must be followed, and minimum timescales before any redundancies can take effect. The cost of any claims relating to failure to follow collective consultation requirements are substantial, and specific advice should therefore always be sought before seeking to implement collective redundancies. We will be publishing further guidance on this on the Hub shortly.