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What is a cohabitation agreement?

Cohabitation agreements are used by people who live together to record their legal and beneficial ownership in their shared property and to regulate their financial and living arrangements, both during cohabitation and if they ever cease to live together.

The parties to the agreement do not have to be in a romantic relationship, but they can be. Often, cohabitation agreements are used by couples who have decided not to marry or enter into a civil partnership. The property concerned can be rented, owned solely by one cohabitee, owned by one or more cohabitees together or with a third party, or owned jointly by cohabitees in equal or unequal shares. Whatever the situation, it can be written into the agreement.

Having a cohabitation agreement in place and discussing each person’s rights and obligations at the outset of living together can help parties to avoid the personal negativity, cost and uncertainty of litigation if cohabitation ends. Cohabitation agreements can help to provide a sense of reassurance and financial security for the parties. For example, provisions can be put in place for financial support for the former partner if the relationship ever ends, particularly if they have children together.

There is some uncertainty about whether the terms of a cohabitation agreement will be upheld and enforced by the court, however, the general view is that if the cohabitation agreement is properly drafted as a legal contract, then it is more likely to be enforceable. Cohabitation agreements can be a complex area of law and therefore if you wish to discuss this further we would advise that you speak with one of our specialist family solicitors.

Related FAQs

Reductions in salary

An obvious cost cutting measure is to reduce salaries, either temporarily or permanently. If you are to seek a reduction in salaries, this should be done fairly – either across the board or by selecting teams/individuals based on objective business reasons.

Note that this cannot be imposed without significant risk. Without agreement, this would need fair selection and consultation.

Employer furlough schemes

Furlough means temporary leave of absence. There is nothing to stop an employer seeking to agree a temporary leave of absence – with or without pay – with its workforce.

This could not be forced on an employee without significant risk. Without agreement, this would need fair selection and consultation – more on that later.

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.

If an employee has had a coronavirus test, can we require them to disclose evidence of their test results?

Obtaining an employee’s Covid-19 test result will amount to processing personal data for the purposes of the General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR) and information about an employee’s health is a special category of data (sensitive personal data under the Data Processing Act 2018 (DPA)).

In accordance with the GDPR and DPA, there must be lawful grounds for processing such information. Most employers rely on employees’ consent to obtain medical information and process sensitive personal data and if the employee is unwilling to give consent, you will not normally be entitled to the information.

Special category data can be processed lawfully if it is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the data controller. Employers may be able to require an employee to disclose their Covid-19 test if there is a substantial public interest, such as ensuring that the employee self-isolate if they have a positive test. However, there is a risk that this measure could be considered disproportionate particularly if it is enforced on all employees as a blanket measure.

What are the responsibilities of employers under the coronavirus Test and Trace scheme?

The Government has produced workplace guidance for employers, setting out 2 key messages for employers:

  • Continue to make workplaces as safe as possible; and
  • Encourage workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and to support them while they are require to isolate

Government guidance can be accessed here: How it works (an overview) and Workplace guidance for employers.