How can I change some of the basic terms of my contract of employment?

A contract of employment is a legal agreement between the employer and the employee. It contains terms, either express or implied, which you cannot lawfully change or vary without your employer's further agreement.

If you wish to change some of the terms you should discuss the matter with your employer, perhaps with the help of a trade union representative. Your employer must listen to and genuinely consider your request.

It is a good idea to think carefully about your employer’s likely response, and to write down the ways in which you would respond, thinking about for example:

  • how your request could be met in practice;
  • what affect it could have on your employer and your colleagues;
  • whether there is a potential upside or benefit for your employer you can highlight;
  • if there are disadvantages, and how these could be addressed;
  • whether it will cost your employer anything;
  • when you would like the new arrangement to start if your employer agrees; and
  • what compromises you would be prepared to make to meet your employer halfway if necessary.

Thinking about these in advance helps you make sure you don’t agree to something you later regret.

If a number of you want to ask for the same change, it is sensible to group together to make your case for change, through your union if there is a recognised union at your workplace.

There are specific laws in place if you want to ask to change your basic terms to work flexibly or to take time off to train.

Remember that any change to your contract terms in response to a request to work flexibly will be a permanent change, unless the parties agree otherwise, so if you want it to be temporary only, or to be reviewed at a particular date, you need to agree this, and record the agreement clearly and in writing.

Since 30 June 2014, the right to request flexible working has been available to all employees who have at least 26 weeks’ service. For information about this change to the law, see our Flexible Working section.

There is generally no legal obligation on your employer to agree to vary your contract terms. However, an important exception to this relates to the treatment of disabled workers. Disabled workers are entitled to have reasonable adjustments made for them so that they can carry out their work – for example, changes to hours and the provision of special equipment.

You also have important protections where you are pregnant or breastfeeding your baby. If you are having difficulties, for example with your hours or start and finish times as a result of being pregnant, you should speak to your employer (with your union rep present if possible).

It is unlawful to treat you unfavourably because you are pregnant or have a pregnancy-related illness.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.