Many aspects of workplace operations have had to change significantly in response to COVID-19 and social distancing restrictions. You may want to review how, when and where your staff work going forwards but take care to respect employment law and workers rights when changing employee contracts.
Many businesses will be assessing how they can adapt operations to meet restrictions and protect staff and remain viable. Changes to employee roles, working hours, working patterns or the workplace itself may all be on the agenda:
Could staggered hours help employees come back to the workplace safely?
If homeworking has been a success, could you use it long term to cut property costs?
A degree of reorganisation may make sound business sense, enabling you to build for the future.
Things to note when changing contracts of employment
Any changes to terms and conditions of work are essentially changes to the employment contract. Some contracts contain a flexibility clause, allowing you to vary terms, but are unlikely to permit a fundamental change to hours or pay.
In the absence of a flexibility clause, you should seek to agree any change with your employees. Express employee (and in some circumstances trade union) agreement to the proposed change is advisable in most cases. Simply trying to force change through can open a Pandora’s box of claims for breach of contract and the risk of legal action by employees.
It is also important to step back and look at the bigger picture: Which individuals are being asked to accept change? Are you confident that you have closed the door to any question of discrimination? And that no-one has been selected because of a characteristic protected under the Equality Act 2010, such as age or disability?
Change can be agreed verbally or in writing. Where a change affects something included in the written statement of employment particulars, it must be notified to employees in writing, within a month of the change being effected.
Any change to the small print is best done through dialogue and employee engagement. As businesses emerge from lockdown and resume ‘normal’ operations, workers are likely to need particular reassurance about plans for the future. At this point, make regular two-way communication with your workforce a priority in order to carry them on the journey with you.
Guidance from the Arbitration and Conciliation Service on how to go about changing employment