Adverse (to the employee) changes in existing terms of employment are usually made in one of three ways: by agreement with the employee(s), possibly with a cash "sweetener"; by unilateral variation of contract terms (or of works rules applied by the contracts); or by giving required notice to terminate existing contracts and offering new contracts on new terms.
Choices open to an employee are: agree with the employer's proposals; reject them and quit, perhaps claiming constructive dismissal , or reject them but continue to work on a without prejudice basis (i.e. "under protest") on the new terms, reserving all rights, negotiating if possible and ultimately bringing court or Tribunal proceedings if agreement cannot be reached.
The basic rule is that a unilateral change to terms and conditions of employment made by an employer without agreement of the employee is generally a breach of contract, in serious cases giving the employee the right to resign and claim constructive dismissal.
To avoid the risk of a successful unfair dismissal claim employers must be able to demonstrate a substantively fair reason for making the change and must be careful to carry out appropriate procedures.
Even a clause agreed by an employee giving the employer the right to make unilateral changes will not give the employer a total carte blanche.
Changes in terms of employment must be notified to employees within one month, or sometimes sooner if overseas work is involved .
It is essential that employees are fully aware of, and accept, any detrimental changes to their terms of employment if the changes are to be legally binding.
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