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Changing employment contracts – Our key FAQ’s

With the busy winter season fast approaching and the threat of coronavirus still very much present, retailers may have to make further adaptations to their working practices in order to weather the storm.

While ‘non-essential’ shops haven’t yet been ordered to close under the new tier system (provided they operate in a COVID-secure manner), with an ongoing requirement to limit customer numbers, the knock-on affect of closures in hospitality, and a reduction in government support after the furlough scheme ends, you may be forced to consider your staffing requirements.

Whether you need to make changes to start and finish times, redeploy employees to other roles or locations, or cut hours or pay, these changes will have employment law implications and need to be executed carefully.

Bira Legal answer some common questions members are asking right now.

What reasons would I have for needing to change my employment contract?

Where you are considering any of the following changes, this will have an impact on the contractual terms and conditions of your employees:

  • Changes to start and finish times;
  • Changes to the day(s) in the week on which the employee normally works;
  • A reduction in hours of work;
  • Changes to places of work.

Do I need to ask for approval from the staff it will affect before I implement the changes?

The starting point is to check the employee’s contract of employment, as this may contain provision to allow you make certain changes. If the contract does not contain such a clause, you will need to consult staff about the proposed changes and get their agreement to the change.

However, a word of caution – just because the contract states that you may change employees’ hours of work in accordance with the needs of the business, this will not give you the automatic right to do so if you have never previously changed staff hours under this and the employee has had set hours of work for a considerable time.

You also need to consider how many hours of work you are looking to reduce. Where this would mean a full-time member of staff moving to a part-time position, this may place their full-time role at risk of redundancy, which would involve consultation with staff on that basis. Further advice should be taken if you find yourself in this situation to ensure that you follow the correct process.

Do I need to give them notice of the changes? If so, how much?

Yes. After you have consulted with staff, reasonable notice of the change should be given. Their contract of employment should set out how long this should be. Where changes are urgently required, you would need to seek to obtain staff agreement to the change occurring on that date. In the current climate, where many changes are in an effort to save staff jobs, this should hopefully be an easier sell.

How should I notify the relevant staff of the changes?

Where possible, consultation should take place in person with appropriate social distancing measures in place. If this isn’t possible right now, businesses can agree with staff to hold these meetings by video call or telephone as an alternative.

Whatever form consultation takes, the key is to ensure that it is meaningful. Consultation is about more than just informing the employee of a decision you’ve already made; it should open a two-way dialogue where views and information can be exchanged.

If I change the contract for one member of staff, will I need to change it for everyone?

It’s important that you consider the needs the business and what you need from particular roles, as opposed to specific individuals and their personal circumstances. This is to ensure that you avoid any allegation that a member of staff has been treated less favourably due to having a protected characteristic (such as age, sex, pregnancy or disability), which may give rise to a claim for discrimination. That is not to say that all changes in hours need to be the same, but there should be an objectively justified reason for the changes being proposed.


Contemplating contractual changes? Bira members can contact Bira Legal on 0345 450 0937 or email for expert advice and support. It wont cost a penny as it’s included in the cost of our membership.


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