Problems can arise if:
- an employer tries to change a contract without agreement, or re-employs someone on new terms and conditions
- there is a breach of contract where one of the terms in a contract is broken (eg an employer doesn’t pay agreed wages or employees don’t work agreed hours)
Employees can also get advice from their trade union representative (if they’re a member of a union), Citizen’s Advice or Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). In Northern Ireland, they can get advice from the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) .
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If the problem can’t be solved, employers or employees may have the right to take legal action. It’s important to get advice first because legal action can be expensive. Trade union members may be able to get legal advice from their union.
Making a change without agreement
If an employer makes a change to a contract without getting agreement (including by using flexibility clauses unreasonably), employees may:
- have the right to refuse to work under the new conditions
- say that they’re working any new terms under protest, and are treating the change as a breach of contract
- resign and claim constructive dismissal
- be able to take a case to an employment tribunal
In Northern Ireland an employment tribunal is known as an ‘industrial tribunal’.
If an employee disagrees with new terms and conditions but doesn’t say or do anything, this may count as agreeing to the changes.
Re-employment on new terms and conditions
Employers may, as a last resort, end a contract and re-employ someone on new terms and conditions.
Employers who are dismissing employees must follow the legally required:
- redundancy procedure in England, Wales and Scotland
- statutory minimum dismissal in Northern Ireland
If an employer does dismiss and re-employ someone, they may be able to take a case to a tribunal and claim:
- breach of contract
- unfair dismissal
Breach of contract claims
If an employee claims breach of contract and they can’t solve things informally with their employer, they may be able to take their case to a civil court or an employment tribunal (or an industrial tribunal in Northern Ireland).
Their employer may be able to make a counter-claim.
Claims and counter-claims can only go to a tribunal if they:
- are related to an employment contract issue
- still haven’t been solved when the employee ends their employment
The claim or counter-claim can’t be related to a personal injury, or certain types of contract term like intellectual property rights.
Usually, employees must make a claim to a tribunal within 3 months of ending their employment. The employer gets 6 weeks from receiving a copy of the claim to decide whether to make a counter-claim.
If the tribunal agrees with the employee’s claim, they may award compensation. This can only be for financial loss (for example, non-payment of wages) up to a maximum of £25,000.