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Can my employer make changes to my duties?
A contract of employment is a legal agreement between the employer and the employee. It contains terms, either 'express' or 'implied', that cannot lawfully be changed or varied without further agreement between you. Where there is a recognised trade union, this further agreement should be negotiated through collective bargaining.
If the employer wants to change an important term of you and your colleagues' contracts, it should first carry out a proper consultation, explaining the reason for proposing the change, and allowing time for staff to consider the proposal and to suggest alternative ways of achieving the same result. For example, if the employer wants to cut pay or benefits, employees might want to suggest other ways of achieving the same savings.
Employers should offer compensation for any loss resulting from any change, and give enough advance notice so that employees are able to prepare.
An employee can decide to accept a change, and many terms of the contract are of course varied from time to time by mutual consent. For example, it is quite usual for pay to be varied (usually increased) on an annual basis.
In some cases, the contract may contain an express term, apparently permitting the employer to make unilateral changes (i.e. without your agreement). Even with such a clause, any changes must be reasonable and must be introduced appropriately. For example, it might say something like "changes can be made to these contract terms without your consent to reflect the changing needs of the business".
Even if your contract contains this kind of clause, any changes must be reasonable and must be introduced appropriately, after consultation. Your employer must not breach the contractual duties of mutual trust and confidence and good faith that is owed to all employees.
Your employer would not normally be allowed to rely on this kind of term to significantly expand contractual duties, for example by adding significant extra duties to your job role without taking anything away, or to fundamentally change the nature of your job.
Speak to your union rep, as union solicitors may be able to provide advice as to what changes the employer is allowed to make by relying on this kind of term.
Sometimes employers impose changes on employees who have refused to agree to them by giving notice to dismiss those employees who reject the change, while at the same time offering them replacement contract terms that include the rejected changes. Speak to your union rep without delay to find out what the options are if this happens to you or your colleagues.
Often an well-organised collective approach is the only way of persuading the employer to change its mind.
Finally, remember that where changes are made to your contract, employers must give you written notification of the change within one month.