Change an employee's terms of employment

Checklist: changing an employee's terms of employment


You may want to change an employee's contract of employment for a number of reasons. Often the nature of your business has changed, perhaps through expansion, a change in economic circumstances, or a reorganisation.

Things to consider when making changes to an employment contract

Make sure you:

  • Familiarise yourself thoroughly with the details of any existing contracts before considering what alterations you want to make.
  • Consult your staff about any changes you wish to introduce and include their trade union or other elected representatives. Simply imposing changes could mean a claim by employees for damages in a civil court, industrial tribunal, or a constructive dismissal claim before an industrial tribunal.
  • Discuss any changes with your staff in a thorough and detailed way, fully explaining the reasons for any planned alteration and taking into consideration the impact of the proposed changes in individual circumstances. Agreed changes should be confirmed in writing to the employee within one month.
  • Try, if an agreement cannot be reached with an employee on changes, to negotiate a new contract.
  • Document as much in writing as possible.
  • Do not assume an employee's acceptance of changes imposed without agreement. An employee may accept the breach of contract, treat the breach as a termination of the contract, and bring a claim for constructive dismissal or continue working under protest making it clear that the change is being treated as a breach of contract. An employee may complain to an industrial tribunal within three months of the change being imposed. The employee would have to resign and not wait too long before doing so, otherwise, it could be taken as an affirmation of the breach.

Breach of contract cases can only be taken to the industrial tribunal if the employment has been terminated and the claim arises on termination of employment.

If the employee continues to work under protest, they may have to sue in a civil court unless the breach results in loss which can be pursued through the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 part 4 Protection of Wages as an unlawful deduction from wages claim. Such claims would be made to the Industrial Tribunal.