Change Employment Terms and Conditions, Stress Free

Dialogue rooted in kindness and tolerance…can change any challenge into an impetus for growth and progress. Dr Daisaku Ikeda.

The last thing any employer wants to experience is standing in front of a judge defending their actions. A seemingly simple change to an individual’s employment terms ended up costing the employer a great deal of stress, management time and to top it off a significant compensation payment as the employer lost the case. The case of Agarwal vs St John Freight Systems (Worker told to resign after time-off wins case), is an example of what appeared to be a straightforward case of changing an employee’s working hours, which then blew up into a case of pregnancy related discrimination. Most employers are probably aware that there are extensive provisions protecting pregnant employees from unfavourable treatment. Woe betide the employer who attempts to dress up the plan to exit a pregnant employee under the ‘selection for redundancy’ guise. Unless, of course, there is a legitimate (and it can be objectively shown to be the case) reason for the redundancy. In this case, talk of redundancy came to the party late. Previous attempts to change the employee’s terms had been poorly managed. Also, a golden rule was broken in this case: never suggest to the employee they resign, unless you are happy to pay damages. For sure, as the employee exits, a claim for damages will swiftly enter your inbox.

It is not uncommon that at some stage in the employment relationship it becomes necessary to review employment terms and conditions. As a rule, terms which puts the employee at a disadvantage (relative to the terms they enjoy now) will be problematic to achieve; changes require the express agreement of the employee. In my experience at Lotus HR, it is possible to achieve even quite difficult changes to employment terms. The key lies in how it is done. Here are suggested important considerations:

  • Think carefully about why the change is needed and have reasonably arguments to explain to the person/persons affected. The reason for proposing the changes need to be clearly communicated.
  • Allow time to discuss the changes and give space to the person to object.
  • Listen to objections and endeavour to address them. Is there a way to achieve a compromise; a ‘win-win’ for both parties could be achieved?
  • It may be necessary to have several discussions and be willing to modify the original proposals to reach agreement.
  • It is crucial that you consider how the proposed change could impact the person’s personal circumstances. Aim to understand what is going on for them.
  • Unless a change is very minor (and this is open to interpretation) a unilateral decision to tell the employee, “this is how it’s going to be” in many cases can amount to a fundamental breach of contract. The employee may choose to do nothing about it and just continue to work to the altered terms. Or they may refuse to accept the situation and bring a claim against the company.
  • Offer a ‘sweetener’; a one-off £££ payment, additional annual leave, or something else the person would find valuable.

The main message here is that changing terms and conditions, can be a challenge and will always, always require dialogue with those affected. Employees can be won over to difficult changes which are less favourable to them if they feel understood and understand why the change is important to the business.