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Changing an employment contract can be tricky. There are a lot of considerations and this is not a process you should enter into lightly. 
 
Of course, sometimes the business needs mean that this is unavoidable and in this instance, it is vital that you implement these changes carefully and with advice. 
 
In most employment contracts, there will be a flexibility clause which means employers can implement reasonable changes to the contract and generally, this is what allows them to do it. (It also allows employees to request reasonable changes). 
 
However, if you are found to be using the flexibility clause unreasonably, you could be opening yourself up to issues, so it is important to be cautious. 
 
Before considering a contract change, think about what issue you are trying to solve and whether this is definitely the way forward. 
 
If the business needs dictate that changes need to be made, you must ensure appropriate steps are taken. 
 
Firstly, inform all staff members who will be affected. You need to let them know, 
 
➡️ What are the proposed changes? 
➡️ Who is impacted? 
➡️ Why you are considering these changes 
➡️ Over what time period the changes will likely take place 
➡️ Any further options to consider 
 
You should try to give them as much information as possible. Transparency is key in this situation so consider informing them of the following. 
 
🟢 What will be involved in the process of changing the contractual terms? 
🟢 The reasons the business need this to happen 
🟢 How employees will benefit from them 
🟢 How the the business will benefit from these changes 
🟢 Alternatives you have considered before coming to this conclusion 
 
It would benefit you to show them that you want to work with them to make these changes as seamless as possible. 
 
Assure your employees that you want them to consider these changes carefully and that there will be a consultation process to discuss any concerns or questions. Let them know how or who to direct their questions to and where they can access support. 
 
Once you have informed all employees of the potential changes, you need to give them time to consider them. Make sure you explain why this is the route you felt most appropriate and try to have an open door policy for any questions or concerns. 
 
An employee does not have to sign a new contract to agree to it. 
 
If an employee does not object or put forward any concerns, it is reasonable to assume this is an acceptance of the new contract; It does not need to be in writing. However, it is also best practice and in order to avoid any ambiguity to ensure that the employee does not have any concerns and is happy with the change. If they do have concerns or object to the proposed changes, it can be complicated. 
 

What if an employee refuses the proposed changes? 

In some circumstances, employees will be unhappy with the changes and will inform you that they do not want to accept the new employment contract. As much as this is frustrating, there are steps you need to follow should this happen. 
 
If an employee objects, arrange a meeting and allow them to share their concerns. Ask them to put them in writing and you will respond in the same way. 
 
It is imperative that you consider their concerns and try to accommodate them where possible. 
 
I would advise that you go into a consultation period with them, document everything and ensure that you try everything possible to ease their concerns. 
 
However, if it is clear that the business needs are unable to accommodate their concerns and the employee is not going to agree to the new contractual terms, (assuming these changes are reasonable), then there is an option to terminate their existing contract (with a fair notice period) and offer to rehire them under the new employment contract. 
 
There needs to be very clear and fair reasons as to why you are terminating their existing contract. 
 
This is a risky option. If you decide to terminate a contract based on an employee feeling unable to work under the new conditions, you could open yourself up to an unfair dismissal claim. 
 
If an employee does not agree with the changes, then the business should reconsider whether there are any other options available and document their thoughts 
In the best case scenario, the employee will accept the termination of their old contract and the new terms but in the worst case scenario, they do not accept and seek legal advice. 
 
If you have been fair and can clearly prove there was no choice in making these changes, then you will have a level of protection, but it is a risk. 
 
You also need to consider that you could potentially be losing an excellent member of staff. If they perform well and have not previously given any cause for concern, it is worth considering whether you really want to lose them. 
 
Of course, if you have no choice in making these changes, then it is a loss you may have to accept. 
 
I would strongly suggest that you seek professional advice before attempting to implement any contractual change within your workforce. Although it may be a necessary change, it can also be a risky one so please do not leave yourself open to a legal battle. 
 
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